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May 11, 2008

Reprinted from The New York Times


New Roc City
RETOOLING New Roc City is expected to lose
entertainment option
Janet Durans for the New York Times

When New Roc City, the huge youth-oriented entertainment complex here, opened in 1999, city officials viewed it as a catalyst to help revive downtown.

Built on the site of a failed mall that lasted only about 15 years — and at a time when many retailers would not risk setting up shop downtown — New Roc, with an 18-screen movie complex, bowling, miniature golf and a full-size hockey rink, was expected to help bring jobs, consumers and activity to the area. A new 25-story apartment tower across the street was supposed to help, too.

In some ways, New Roc accomplished its mission: Despite periodic problems, including a melee involving hundreds of youths in April 2007, New Roc City attracted millions of people who would not otherwise have come and spent money downtown, city officials and developers say.

But the recent announcement that New Roc will most likely be revamped soon to eliminate many of its entertainment properties and house two large retail stores, Target and Kohl’s, has city officials, developers and property owners saying that the two big stores’ arrival will signal that downtown is at last on the brink of its long-awaited renaissance.

Opinions among advocates for downtown are mixed as to whether the discount retailers Target and Kohl’s are appropriate for a downtown that in its heyday catered to some of the state’s wealthiest shoppers (one large movie theater had fireplaces in its ladies’ room). Residents and officials who were interviewed, however, largely agreed that the retailers’ willingness to move in was proof of downtown’s impending reinvigoration — an undertaking that has been in the works so many years and has so many moving parts it can be hard to grasp.

The process began in the early 1990s after the failure on this site of The Mall — which

New Roc City Aerial view
Trump Plaza, left, and New Roc City
Photograph by Janet Durans for the New York Times

took Macy’s, the last downtown department store, with it — and has evolved with retail trends of the times.

“A plan aimed at recreating the vibrant New Rochelle of 1950 is more likely to produce the dying New Rochelle of 1990,” Mayor Noam Bramson said. “We need to be focused on what our city can and should be in the 21st century and beyond.”

In doing so, Mr. Bramson said, the reintroduction of department stores downtown (the first suburban Bloomingdale’s opened there in 1941, later becoming an outlet that closed in the early 1980s) is just one component of the current evolution of the area. It is based on the premise that shoppers coming to a large store like Target will spill over to smaller merchants, he said.

The newly opened Trump Plaza, a luxury condominium high-rise towering 39 stories across the street from New Roc City, and the planned LeCount Square project, which calls for office space, a hotel and 200,000 square feet of retail space, are some of the other projects in the area. City officials say those developments could result in nearly 2,000 new jobs.

Construction could begin on LeCount Square next year, Mr. Bramson said. The city is about halfway through this decade-long redevelopment, though efforts to keep downtown vibrant will continue long past the new construction, he said.

Efforts are also continuing to restore historic Main Street, where storefronts in Art Deco

Main and Division Streets
Main and Division Streets

buildings are undergoing restorations with help from city grants and low-interest loans. A dozen new restaurants have opened, joining a mix of existing ethnic restaurants, some with newly rehabbed exteriors and dining rooms.

Long-vacant buildings on Main Street, including those that once housed Bloomingdale’s and Lillian Vernon, are finding new lives as residential loft and condominium units, all 162 of which are occupied.

Also in the works is a plan to build 700 waterfront residences, retail space and a waterfront promenade at Echo Bay, an area just north of downtown that has long been home to city storage yards and environmental waste.

The Municipal Arts Commission is pursuing public art. The first big project will be a stained-glass and lights display in the windowed bridge that connects New Roc City and Trump Plaza across the street, commissioners said. There also are plans to place sculptures along Main Street. Though some of the projects are still subject to final approvals by city officials — as well as the whims of the larger economic market — the recently completed and planned developments represent an investment of about $2 billion, Mr. Bramson said.

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