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September 27, 2007
By BRYAN F. YURCAN
Westchester Business Journal
Photo Right: Albert Tarantino
On the second floor of 565 Main St. in downtown New Rochelle, construction of two residential lofts is ongoing in a space that has been vacant for more than 10 years.
The future lofts sit above Talner Jewelers, a longtime city business. Owner Albert Tarantino, a lifelong New Rochelle resident, believes there is a market for the live-and-work lofts he is creating, scheduled to be finished in October.
By utilizing loan programs offered by the city’s business improvement district (BID), he said, “It was a no-brainer to do this.”
The lofts are the latest in a long line of downtown redevelopment projects spurred by the BID’s various loan programs.
“One of the reasons we’re successful is because of the BID,” Tarantino said.
The New Rochelle BID was started in 2000 by Ralph DiBart, who serves as its executive director.
DiBart was hired by the city, like a consultant, to help spur downtown redevelopment. He was director of retail planning for New York City for a period in the 1980s and later worked with real estate developers in the private sector.
But it was with the BID that DiBart, in conjunction with the Community Preservation Corp. (CPC), developed a number of now-renowned loan programs that helped redevelop vacant or old buildings in New Rochelle’s downtown.
Ralph DiBart and new downtown storefronts.
“Our goal was to redevelop long-vacant buildings on Main Street,” he said. “These were a real drain on downtown.”
DiBart contacted people at the CPC, a New York-based consortium of 100 banks and insurance companies, about financing some loan programs for the BID.
He chose not to approach a bank because “banks are a little leery of downtowns because it’s pioneering. There’s no comparative model.”
The BID and CPC loan programs include technical-assistance programs for building owners looking to redevelop vacant space, for those who expand properties, and for façade rehabilitation programs.
In fact, many of these loan programs are now used in other cities and referred to as the “New Rochelle model,” said Sadie McEwan senior vice president and regional director of CPC’s Hudson Valley office.
“The programs were so successful (in New Rochelle) that we exported them to other cities,” she said. Those cities include Albany and Buffalo.
McEwan pointed to Tarantino’s project as one that is making use of several of the loan programs.
“(Tarantino) has really taken advantage of the whole thing,” she said. “These programs have helped smaller property owners to do a lot of things they might not normally be able to.”
Tarantino utilized the façade loan program to restore and renovate the face to his jewelry store, and loans are helping finance the loft renovations.
Façade loans are available for terms of up to 10 years and come with an interest rate as low as 3 percent for approved applicants, said DiBart.
Tarantino digs deep
The whole project is costing Tarantino about $400,000, only 20 percent of which he received in loan money. But he doesn’t mind paying so much out of pocket because the city is on the upswing, he said.
“I believe the city’s downtown will continue to improve and the BID is a big part of that,” he said.
Bob Kahn, owner of Diamond Glass at 555 Main St., agreed: “Clearly, we have seen positive changes downtown.”
Kahn also took advantage of the façade loan program to renovate the exterior of his store.
He further pointed to the BID’s clean-streets program as another part of the city’s downtown renaissance.
The clean-streets program is run in partnership with the city. The program employs full-time workers who clean sidewalks and parking facilities seven days a week. The BID also handles leaf removal, snow removal at crosswalks, landscaping maintenance and sidewalk power washing.
Photo Right: Bob Kahn and Ralph DiBart
“We are very serious about quality of life,” DiBart said.
The BID provides uniforms for its clean-streets employees, who also receive full benefits. DiBart said sanitation services take up about half of the BID’s $375,000 annual budget.
The BID works with the city Sanitation Department in coordinating its beautification efforts, and DiBart said it is essential to have that cooperation for the downtown to flourish.
“To bring people back to the downtown requires a major public-private investment.”
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said the BID has been an “exceptional success” in its efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown.
“Façade restorations have restored the historic luster of buildings,” he said, adding the city is committed to “preserving and enhancing older portions of our downtown even as we encourage new construction in new sites.”
Still, both parties agree while downtown is improving, the city can’t rest on its laurels.
“I would say we’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go,” Bramson said. “Downtown is the engine of your local economy, and should be a vibrant source of quality goods and services that define the city’s image,” he said.
DiBart is hoping a state grant awarded to the BID this month will continue the downtown’s path to success.
Ralph DiBart and Albert Tarantino.
The organization received a $200,000 New York Main Street Program grant, of which $175,000 will go toward continued funding of the façade loan program and $25,000 will go toward an information kiosk at the Metro-North train station.
DiBart said the BID has brought in more than $1 million in grant money since its inception.
And DiBart hopes downtown building owners follow the example set by Tarantino, Kahn, and others who have used the loan programs for restoration or renovation projects.
“It takes a lot of faith and commitment by the property owners,” he said.
Tarantino has both. He fully believes the two 1,400-square-foot lofts will draw interest when they are completed in October or November.
Whatever happens, he has no plans to leave New Rochelle anytime soon.
“This business has been here since 1927,” he said. “I refuse to leave. I am riding this out up or down.”