New Rochelle is the $10 million winner of the state’s annual Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant funding.
At a ceremony Sept. 27 at the Boys & Girls Club in New Rochelle, Empire State Development President and CEO Howard Zemsky announced the city as the winner. Mayor Noam Bramson and Westchester County Executive George Latimer joined him on stage.
Bramson said the announcement brought “a day of excitement and satisfaction, of a sense of a job well done, and an even larger job still ahead.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo launched the downtown revitalization grant in 2016. The program has each state regional development council review proposals from municipalities for the $10 million grant. Middletown won the $10 million in the first round of the contest, with Kingston named for the grant last year. The mid-Hudson region includes Sullivan, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties.
New Rochelle’s application focuses on a corridor surrounding Lincoln Avenue, about a half-mile north of Main Street. The goal is to connect the area better to the city’s growing downtown.
Bramson said the goal is “to take the center of our city, where we are today, with all of its promise and all its challenges and link it together, socially, economically and physically to the growing prosperity of our downtown.”
The DRI awards seek out downtowns that are compact and livable, ready to capitalize on future investment, have recent or pending job growth and have already identified development projects near readiness, according to the state’s description of the criteria.
In a statement published following the ceremony, Cuomo said New Rochelle’s Lincoln Avenue Corridor “is an area ripe with potential to appeal to a new generation of residents, businesses and visitors.”
The city’s application—titled “New Rochelle on the Rise – Reimagining Lincoln Corridor”—defined the corridor as a mile-long stretch that includes Montefiore Hospital of New Rochelle, market rate and affordable housing, the city’s Metro-North Railroad station and part of New Rochelle’s Arts + Cultural District.
The city’s leadership has turned its eyes toward the area as its downtown Main Street continues to grow rapidly under a nearly $7 billion public-private development plan, led by RDRXR at New Rochelle LLC, a joint venture of RXR Realty and Renaissance Downtowns.
The Lincoln Ave Corridor, by the city’s definitions, includes the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and North Avenue, stretching south several blocks down to Main Street. The area is chopped off from the downtown by I-95 and holds two U.S. Census tracts nominated for designation as federal opportunity zones, which could provide tax incentives to spur development.
Better connecting the area to the downtown, city officials believe, could help underemployed residents in the Lincoln Avenue neighborhoods reach new job opportunities in the growing downtown.
An already established Lincoln Avenue Task Force has been collecting public opinion on how to improve the area for future growth. Projects identified to help the community include relocating bus stops, amending zoning to foster commercial development and improvement of properties that could include a co-working space aimed at boosting entrepreneurship. The city is also exploring an elevated park, a free electric shuttle between the district and other area’s in the city’s downtown, as well as the conversion of a utility bridge into a pedestrian walkway, New Rochelle officials wrote in the application.
The plan focuses on forging “connections that will help nourish its northern residential neighborhoods, long separated from the city’s commercial and cultural heart,” city officials wrote.
The city’s first use of the $10 million will be $300,000 in planning funds. The plans will fund the creation of a strategic investment plan for utilizing the $10 million.
Bramson said with a laugh at the press conference that the funds will not “be redecorating my office.” He promised an inclusive planning process with state and local officials, as well as community imput.
New Rochelle – with a population just under 80,000 – is a jump in population size from the smaller Hudson Valley municipalities that won the downtown grants in its first two years. Middletown has a population of about 27,000; Kingston is about 23,000. Apart from the winners in the designated New York City region, New Rochelle is the most populous municipality to win the award in its three years.
New Rochelle was up against a long list of downtowns, including several Westchester County neighbors. Greenburgh, Mamaroneck, Mount Kisco, Mount Pleasant, Mount Vernon, Ossining, Peekskill, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow, White Plains and Yonkers all submitted applications for this year’s competition.