Two developers presented remarkably similar proposals for putting a vital piece of property in New Rochelle to better use in a meeting with council members on May 9, but offered starkly different views on how they would achieve their goals.
The property in question is 45 Harrison St., just outside of the core downtown district.
New Rochelle Fire Department Station 1 is the current occupant, and therein lies a problem and an opportunity.
The city is in the midst of an ambitious plan to create millions of square feet of new residential, retail and office space. That makes the land for the centrally located fire station — bounded by Harrison, Cedar and Huguenot streets, close to Interstate 95 — valuable.
But centrality is also crucial to firefighting.
So New Rochelle issued a request for proposals. Whoever can relocate the fire station without disrupting service, pay the city at least $6.7 million for the property and design a building that best matches the city’s downtown master plan can win the rights to develop a 28-story mixed-use building.
Several developers responded to the challenge and city officials whittled the finalists down to a partnership of The Richman Group and Brock Services Corp. and to MacQuesten Development.
The Richman-Brock group envisions a 28-story, $162.8 million project, with about 300 residential units, 42,000 square feet of offices, 36,000 square feet of retail and a five-level parking garage.
MacQuesten proposes a 27-story tower, 282 apartments, 49,341 square feet of offices, 9,500 square feet of retail spaces and four-story parking garage. No price tag was shown on the plans.
Both developers pledged to create a mix of affordable and market-rate housing. Both said they could incorporate space for city offices. Both touted the high quality of their work.
What differentiated them was timing and certainty.
The Richman-Brock partnership has an important asset. Brock already owns land on Cedar Street next to the fire station.
Brock built the nearby Radisson Hotel 42 years ago and has lots of experience in hotel and retail development, but not so much in residential. So it partnered with Richman Group, based in Greenwich, the nation’s seventh largest owner of residential apartments.
They want to do the project in three phases. First, they would pay the city $7 million for its land, begin construction on the Cedar Street lot and start the process of relocating the fire station. Once a new firehouse is built, it would phase in two more sections on Harrison Street.
Relocating the firehouse will not be simple, Richard Richman said, and could delay phases two and three.
By paying the city $7 million upfront, he said the partners would be doing phase one essentially for nothing, but would recoup their investment in the last two phases.
Richman said construction would not start for at least a year. The plans are just a concept now. It will take time to study the site, get good construction cost estimates, acquire the land for the fire station and line up financing.
But how could anyone start the project faster without already owning some of the land, he asked.
“I’d rather be turned down then give you a bunch of promises,” he said. “We’re not here to sell you on any fantasies.”
MacQuesten wants to do the project in one phase, said Rella Fogliano, president, and Joe Apicella, managing director of development.
“We can do this in one fell swoop,” Apicella said.
He said engineers have assured him that contractors can work safely around an operating fire station for 18 months.
MacQuesten is working with Mitchell Associates Architects, which works exclusively on firehouses and has built 150.
Apicella said he has also secured a letter of intent from Mulino’s of Westchester to lease space in the new building for downtown New Rochelle’s first “white table cloth, high-end fine dining establishment.”
“We want to see the project proceed quickly,” he said.
But there is a possible hitch.
MacQuesten has to acquire land for a new fire station. It is looking at 65 River St., the site of Post Marine Supply and the same location Richman-Brock is eyeing.
Owner Michael Gravinese knows he has something unique, Apicella said. “It may be difficult to strike a deal here.”
Apicella invoked a controversial practice, without actually naming it: eminent domain. He said a fire station is clearly a public purpose — alluding to a key justification for a government taking private property.
“We may need your help to expedite it if we can’t come up with an agreement.”
Later in the meeting, Mayor Noam Bramson prodded him on what needs to be done for MacQuesten to have confidence in relocating the fire station.
Acquisition of the Post Marina site is his number one concern, Apicella said. “I’ve dealt with this gentleman. He’s very nice, I’ve known him for years ….”
Bramson cut him off.
Some things are better dealt with in executive session, the mayor said, referring to a closed-door session that is not open to the public.
“Yeah,” Apicella said. “It could be a difficult negotiation.”