The November 11 meeting of the New Rochelle East End Civic Association was a fitting time for giving credit to our veterans who have preserved our freedom. Both speakers, Ron Tocci, former New York State Assemblyman, and Jim Killoran, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, addressed the great debt we owe our military, including how New Rochelle is part of this legacy.
Killoran began by saying today was about the "freedom to talk and disagree." New Rochelle is a city of history, hope and homes, but now we are in critical times. He loves New Rochelle and its history, and feels this history can be used to bring people and dollars into the city. His historic Trolley has been used to bring attention to many historic buildings in the community. He suggested they should "dream tonight" and claimed he has a vision that by next year Loew's Theatre could be operating again and next Veterans' Day Ceremony could be celebrated at the New Rochelle Armory.
SoNo, south of North Avenue, in New Rochelle was started because he felt more attention should be directed to what is necessary to bring more businesses to downtown. Citing Thomas Paine, he said we need a "common sense" political party.
Tearing down the Armory, or Post Office which was built with "sweat equity in the depression," would wipe out our "connectivity" with history. While he likes Avalon he felt residents should come out and "go on Main Street." When the question of problems with parking, especially at night, was posed, Killoran reiterated he did not want police in cars, he wanted them walking on Main Street. He also felt the municipal services offices should be brought back on Main Street.
Tocci began his talk by recounting an example of George Washington in the Revolutionary War on December 23 when he was ready to call it quits. He felt like a failure and went to speak to his troops. But Thomas Paine came to his rescue and gave the troops a famous speech, "These are the times that try men's souls." Following this, Washington took the enemy by surprise on Christmas Eve and changed the course of this war. Tocci felt Washington was the best President we have ever had, especially because he had a vision for what America was to become. Sadly he noted the debt to our veterans is not reflected in our New York State budget.
Turning to the local scene, he claimed, "We know what's wrong with New Rochelle. The City has no vision or master plan." He cited his proposal for Main Street which he presented to the Future Visions Committee and all member voted for his plan, "New Ro Vision," but nothing happened. This is what happens when the City Council "puts on earmuffs." The claim was made that Trump Tower was going to save New Rochelle and now is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Turning to the Echo Bay area from Echo Avenue to Salesian he envisioned a waterfront development for the residents. Instead of 750 apartments and two hotels his vision of a La Rochelle Village" could contain shops, boutiques and become a mini New Orleans which would generate sales tax for the city. In l998 he was partly responsible for the transfer of the Armory, in perfect shape for one dollar, to the City. The City made money using the building but let it deteriorate. A company, Thayer Construction, went through the building recently and found in spite of purposeful neglect, that the building can be restored for $1 to $1.5 million. The United Veterans Memorial & Patriotic Association is going to ask the city for the right to fix this building.
Citing the lack of a book store or other quality shops in New Rochelle, Tocci felt the citizens "Must mobilize and make elected officials understand there is no reason why we can't have the good old times." In response to a question, Tocci suggested residents should get organized and go to city hall. He cited the changes in the recent election which were based on the high taxes people are facing.
Mary Beth Fraioli, a member of the East End Civic Association, recounted how elected officials had come to this organization and told them that the new high rise buildings would bring people to shop and create revenue for the city, but this has not happened.
In the Westchester Herald, November 23, 2009