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October 11, 2008
By MARY SUE IAROCCI
New Rochelle is a changing community with its economic needle pointing toward progress.
Business owners on Main Street are working with the downtown business improvement district (BID) to bring it up to the standards of the upscale Westchester community boosters believe it has the bones to be.
“The downtown New Rochelle economy has strengthened significantly in the past decade,” said Mayor Noam Bramson. “We’ve seen particular growth among restaurants and home furnishers as well as substantial growth in downtown housing. In addition many property owners have invested in rehabbing historic facades, a process which has enhanced the appearance and charm of the Main Street area. However, we still have a long way to go before we achieve our potential, and that is why the city continues to pursue an aggressive policy of transit-oriented development to create a robust mix of housing, retail, office space and entertainment.”
“New Rochelle is fortunate in having a classic, historic Main Street with excellent access to the train station,” said Ralph DiBart, executive director of the New Rochelle downtown BID. “The downtown is filled with buildings that have architectural detail and real historic personality, with many small businesses providing high service. What we’ve been looking to do is create a critical mass of people living downtown, fill vacant storefronts, help some of the businesses that are struggling succeed and upgrade some of the businesses so that Main Street again becomes the premier living room for the greater New Rochelle community.”
The BID’s development goal has been to attract investment to Main Street and to bring more and better retail uses into downtown.
Di Bart said although New Rochelle’s downtown is city-like, “we still are a car-oriented county.”
Robert Kahn, owner of Diamond Glass, a full line glass repair shop on Main Street, said there is a deficit of parking in the city’s Main Street corridor.
“This is the most important thing the city has to look at right now in terms of bringing back the retail to the community,” Kahn said. “Originally, we thought it was the chicken and the egg – do you bring the people, or do you bring the retailers? We forgot the most important quotient: Where are they going to park?”
“I think that the future is here,” Candice Denslow, co-owner of Consign It on Main. “Unfortunately, New Rochelle is facing a poor economy, which doesn’t help, but if you look at New Rochelle five years ago and what the BID has done to clean up the nightlife here it’s amazing what’s taken place in five years so I can only expect that the next five years will bring us back to being a premier city.”
Denslow’s business, a high end recycling furniture business, opened in 2006 at 525 Main Street with 1,800 square feet. As the business grew and needed more space, a new 5,000-square-foot store opened at 543 Main St.
The store will have a grand opening ribbon cutting and reception Oct. 18.
DiBart said in its initial work on the Model Block, the BID worked with the Community Preservation Corporation to create development tools that have been critical to its success: a $50 million development loan program; a façade low-interest, second-mortgage program; and a technical assistance program and a façade design manual. These tools are available throughout downtown and comprise a comprehensive revitalization program that informally has been referred to as the “New Rochelle Model” and is being replicated by the Community Preservation Corporation from Buffalo to Albany.