2:10 p.m., Aug. 10, 2012: UPDATE—The two proposals can be viewed via Mayor Noam Bramson's Web site. Click here.
Two different concepts were proposed for the former Armory Tuesday. Now it's up to the New Rochelle City Council to decide which one deserves a shot.
What to do with the empty building, located on East Main Street next to the city's Department of Public Works facility, has long been discussed. The fate of the facility is now tied to a proposal by Forest City Residential to build 200-300 residential units and about 50,000 square feet of retail space at what is now City Yard on East Main Street. The City Yard will be moved to city-owned property on Beechwood Avenue.
The city issued a request for proposals for adaptive reuse of the facility in May and received proposals from members of the Save the Armory Committee, along with New Rochelle Opera, and from Good Profit Works, an organization that focuses on the solving the problem of sustainability in communities and organizations.
New Rochelle resident Ron Tocci of the Save the Armory Committee and his team proposed reusing the building as the Veterans Memorial Center for the Performing Arts.
John D'Alois of New Rochelle presented an overview of the facility that would likely have a 500- to 1,000-seat auditorium with a stage capable of having theater productions, live music and film festivals. There would also be a support center for veterans on site that would help link them to appropriate programs.
He said the center's mission would be to create a place where New Rochelleans can learn about each other.
"We have an amazing story in New Rochelle," D'Alois said. "We want to show it and tell it, connecting history with the present."
He said the center could be host to nationally syndicated radio shows such as Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, lectures and educational displays and workshops.
Peter Parente of New Rochelle said the center would be a focal point for veterans issues.
"We will dedicate space to help facilitate the assistance in navigating the VA system," he said, calling the complex "a center with a military heartbeat."
Morris Cymbrowitz, an industrial designer from New Rochelle, called the reuse of the Armory "a wonderful opportunity that may or may not present itself again in our lifetime."
He said the revamped facility could help the tax base of the city, not by putting one viable business into it, but several.
"We plan on having at least one major restaurant," Cymbrowitz said, "and imagine the opportunity to develop nightlife here."
Tocci said the building would have elevators going from the underground parking area to the third floor, enabling people to come into the building without having to go outside.
The basement would be designed to cater to senior citizens and young people, with common social areas and other amenities not available elsewhere in the city.
Tocci asked the council to let them to prove the time was right for such an undertaking.
"Allow us an exclusive MOU for a period of time and we will make you believe our dream can become a reality," he said. "New Rochelle can become again the Queen City on the Sound."
Councilwoman Shari Rackman was concerned about the estimated cost of renovation—at $2.8 million—and the cost of the 150-car garage—$3 million.
"Given the condition the Armory is in," she said, "that number sounds low."
Tocci explained that some renovation costs would be borne by the entities that rent the space, such as the restaurant.
Rackman was also wondering about potential corporate donors and whether they've been solicited already.
She asked if there were there any verbal or written commitments.
Cymbrowitz said corporate donors have been spoken to, adding there was one donor interested in giving enough money that the donor's name could be put on the door.
"In order for them to take us seriously, we have to do far more," he said, including being able to show them a memorandum of understanding from the city.
Tocci assured the council that a marketing study is being done and will be provided to the council members.
Michael Blakeney of Good Profit Works said his team was interested abandoned and underutilized city architecture and they saw great possibilities in New Rochelle.
"Imagine inside a great market hall, focused on regional food," he said, with two restaurants, vendor stalls, an exhibition hall and space to provide veterans special services, such as job training in collaboration with the New Rochelle Public Library and health services.
Architect Joseph Bergin said the Armory was a "fantastic example of military architecture," presenting itself as a fortress.
Good Profit proposes to add a glass-enclosed exhibition hall to the main entrance of the building that he said would turn the front of the building as one of the permanent exhibits.
Real estate attorney and licensed architect John Belbusti said he wanted to bring economic reality to the project to "make sure we were not just dreaming.
"We are looking to create a sustainable answer to the Armory," he said, "so that when we are done, the Armory will last for 100 years."
Belbusti said Good Profit was looking to raise $19 million and borrow $7 million which would cover renovations and the creation of programmatic elements.
"We have already had signficant discussions with corporate sponsors, venture capital firms and several different funds interested in contributing money for this," he said. "We will need to have an MOU to get concrete commitments."
Belbusti said his preliminary numbers show a slightly profitable facility, through a combination of restaurant revenue, special event fees and vendor rental fees.
Key to Good Profit's proposal is the involvement of celebrity chef Jeremiah Tower, known for his farm to table cuisine.
Tower, who is already looking for a place to live in New Rochelle, said he was extremely impressed by the diversity he has found in the city.
He said he plans to not only work with farmers but with students who will be able to follow their food from seedlings to the kitchen.
"It is quite clear to me that New Rochelle has what we need to fill up" the restaurants and the vendor stalls, Tower said.
Mayor Noam Bramson said Good Profit's vision may be a little hard to grasp for most people.
Tower said the facility would be similar to Chelsea Markets on the west side of Manhattan, where prepared foods are available to take home and reheat and restaurants are there for indoor dining as well.
Bramson said both proposals will eventually be available on the city's Web site.