The Voice of New Rochelle: Armory PB&J

You could hear Etta James’s "At Last" in your head as the two presentations for a re-born Armory played on at City Hall last week. Together, they just might get the job done.

Henry Ford once credited his achievements with combining the attributes of a hard head and a soft heart. The more you think about it, the more it makes sense. It really does take a mixture of cold calculation and human empathy to succeed in the public square.

Such were my thoughts as I took in every second of presented by the Save Our Armory and Good Profit Works teams to the New Rochelle City Council Aug. 7. 

Well-known and respected New Rochelle spokesmen Ron Tocci and Peter Parente laid out a heartfelt, city-centric, even romantic vision of what could become of the battered old Naval Armory on East Main Street. There was a little too much variety in it, to be frank. It had a little something for everyone—a museum, theater, veteran’s services, breakout rooms and restaurants, just to name a few. It even had sections for seniors and day care. I half expected Ralph Kramden, as in his iconic TV show about the Handy Housewife Helper, to join them and suggest that “maybe we should say something about spear fishing.”

What it had most, though, was love and passion. These people have wanted to save this building for a long time, and want to make it a part of city life. Their show was less than perfect and—as is—may not be viable. But it had the sincerity of a besotted suitor asking a long-time muse to finally go on a date. Their heart and intentions were squarely in the right place.

The second group was right out of central casting for a call by the director to portray a team that said to all “this game is over, no one else has a chance.” They had the celebrity chef, developers in $2,000 suits, button-downed lawyers, photo renderings and a few local folks to tenderize the beef that was their very businesslike idea for a Quincy Market-like food court and sort of flea market. Visions of Chelsea Market and the UK's Covent Gardens filled my head. What they presented seemed viable and was buttressed by a business plan.

But something was missing.

It was late in the presentation when Councilman Barry Fertel, not the first voice you think of when the Armory is the subject, asked to the effect, “What about the veterans?” Yes, they were in there, said the presenters, and they were—the whole second floor—but it seemed like an afterthought. The new kids on the block also overestimated their audience.  

Say what you will about New Rochelleans, but they are more about steak than sizzle. I half expected the Good Profit Works group team members to tell us they were immaculately conceived on beds of roses as they listed, ad nauseam, their backgrounds and qualifications. It was major league sales, mixed with cold hard facts.

And so I got to wondering: Is this not what Henry Ford meant? Is this not what we need, too? What if—I thought—the passion and the concern for the city’s history and downright patriotic commitment to veterans and departed service members shown by the Save Our Armory people could be combined with the formidable sales and planning skills of the Good Profit Works folks?    

What if—like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—we need two ingredients to get it done? “Why not?” I thought.

Who will bring the bread?


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