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Superblock: Dream On?

by W.N. Ross

The author’s comments are in response to Descartes On Nyack posted on 9/22/2009.

I want to address three issues, but first this:  So sorry you have to endure drunken laggards, on your way through Nyack.  There is a bit of a college crowd here, and this happens in an area where the bar hopping is packed into two blocks.  I have lived in several tourist areas, one an up and coming artist area in Manayunk, PA, where there were 50 restaurants in six blocks, crowded everynight, with every kind of person: locals, college kids, danceteria people, happy pubbers, the chic and trendy.  There would be someone’s driver waiting, while a group of toothless locals stumbled by, crossing paths with the white collar boys out for a night on the town.  It was a vision of amazing proportions, yet all survived.

Your points about opening a new business here to day are so on point.  The loss of revenue may not matter to the landlords, One of them being M.s Olive, who let their buildings sit empty, rather than take a few less dollars for the next few years. But the new ventures are struggling in an area that cannot sustain them.  Soon they will all be gone.  The landlords being the source of their failure, as well as the lack of moneyed foot traffic to the area.

It is defeating the Village.  It also brings home the points of revitalization when people are trying to save Nyack from a return of the 70’s.  I certainly don’t want to repeat those days.

If anyone has attended the township meetings, you will be aware of the never ending saga of Riverspace.  I can’t fit all the pieces together of who owns what and who wants what, but the end goal is to develop the super block, for which they need a super fund.

In short, there is now a citizens committee who has worked very hard to put together a document with some vague approach to getting the development process started. The village voted on using a grant writer to find funds for a feasibility study to see what they should put in the space.  Feasibility studies are useless.

While they want mixed use, open space, shops, food, etc.  No one has a clue what type would be good for this Village.

I am concerned because the committee is unfamiliar with these types of projects, and they are understandably insecure in the approach. That being said, they haven’t looked at other towns, or compared other projects.  At least it doesn’t appear that way.

However, a big developer came out to talk to them, and I believe they have elevated him to guru status.  It’s a naïve move.  ‘€œThey don’t want someone who just wants to get rich off their development and put anything in there’€  ok, there is the big issue.  First of all, the developers all want to get rich, and this one developer happens to be one of the richest.  Second, they don’t build what you don’t approve.

In reality developers do the feasibility studies, they get a request for information, make a presentation, then the board or committee chooses the best one.  Then you have to lock them in to a timeline, or the day never arrives.

This developer has called the mix use area, retail, ‘€œaffordable’ housing, and it will include a theatre.  He has done a good job of endearing himself to the committee, and they are full of admiration.  The developer is by far one of the richest, and the majority of his work is low to middle income based.

First of all, the word “affordable” typically means, low and low middle income housing.  I certainly don’t want to see another low end housing unit go up in the center of town no matter how pretty you make the outside.  Today’s mid rise low income is tomorrows slum. Additionally, with the affordable premise used for housing, what element of retail or food service do you think that will bring to Nyack?  What element of customer will be serviced in the two super blocks of bars? Another huge mistake is to put a parking garage in the center of town.  It’s instant death to the shopping area.  I have seen it happen more than once.

A member of the committee also stated the builder would be a green developer.  Well, I would think LEEDS would be mandatory but there are all different levels of GREEN building.  My developer associates say, LEEDS, ha, that’s recycled cement and bike racks. We know it is a little more than that, 150 things more than that actually, but it really deals with getting materials locally, more than the level of quality in the product. For instance; what is the better quality of green?  Think about these two items used in green building, recycled paper for countertops, or glass countertops from recycled glass.  One is incredibly cheap and has a poor performance record; the other is not cheap and has a wonderful performance record as well as being aesthetically pleasing, artistic, etc.

Green builders can make the units tiny, the amenities too few, and it will definitely keep the cost down, but you are building the tenement of the future.  Carbon Neutral, like solar assisted, or water cooled would be a benefit here, and higher end materials used inside the buildings, like wood flooring, bamboo cabinets, potable water collection systems, granite counters, stone floors in the bathroom, stainless steel appliances for apartments, and proper architectural planning to maximize efficiency.  It was done in the financial district, in NYC, and all over the country.  Even the low end builders in Washington Heights, Inwood, and parts of Harlem, used these materials to rejuvenate their areas.  They have similarities to the same levels as the new high end units across the city.  Nyack would have to compete with that.  What does affordable housing look like in Nyack?  Where is the stimulus to live here?  I would think if you live in a degrading environment you don’t care

where you throw up’€¦’€¦.

Here is worse news, apparently the big developer sold the committee on the idea that the retail stores would cough up some extra money every month to support the theatre.  I don’t know how you feel about that.  I say it ‘€˜aint’ so.  I asked my friend, another big developer, what he thought about that.  Here is what he said, ‘€œThe only way the theater will work is if rich people and corporations donate huge sums to it every year. The bagel store and the handbag lady have a hard enough time making payroll, let alone being tithed with some witless imposition for next month’s production of Il Schizophreno.”

‘€œI think you’d be better off with a Barnes and Nobel, a Virgin record store, a Starbucks, and an Einstein Brothers Bagels.  Nicely decorated, of course.  Throw in a flower shop and rent the lobby of the theater to the lady who sells umbrellas.’€

Of course all those stores are dead or dying, but he said it to illustrate the point with a vivid and impacting visual.  So don’t get your shorts in a knot, he’s right.

And BTW, he used to live here, but moved because of the decline.  He said it was too old hippie with no idea of what upgrade means.  These ‘€old hippies’ are now advising the township on ‘€œaffordable’€ housing.

There really has to be an overall plan in keeping with the original ambiance of Nyack, but focused on the 21st century and beyond.  It was a haven for literati, artist, writers, painters, and the remnants of the well to do.

I am sure if people really think hard they will come up with an idea of what the super block and the rest of Nyack should aim to be.  They would also need to look at other successful models and pull ideas we can use from those areas.

There are plenty of ideas that are aiming to the future.  The package has to be in concert with revitalizing the whole area, as other villages have already done. Nyack needs to entice arts and light industry to come here.  One example: what about a glass company that makes glass countertops, tiles, and small objects?  He could have a small workforce from the area, offer apprenticeships, and have a glass artisan shop in the back where people could train to make glass art. Local glass art could be sold in the shops here.  Of course the glass factory uses a great deal of water to polish the glass but guess what, it’s all recycled, cleaned and the sludge is bio degradable and usable.

It would also solve one small portion of the recycling problem.  I can’t even fathom how people put up with the lack of recycling for businesses here.

The riverfront area owned by O&R, is also a great spot for community development.  Why wouldn’t they lease it to us for 99 years, like the Quakers did in downtown Philadelphia.  What about live/work lofts and gallery space for new and emerging artists?  New opportunities have to be tackled.

In order to do this an administrator needs to be appointed to recruit better business to this area, handle the development details, and work with grant writers to bring more money to our little village.  This person would have to be chosen carefully. They must have a clear vision of what will benefit the community, be eco minded, (and understand the differences) and at the very least want to upgrade, preserve, and incorporate good living back into Nyack.

Nyack is behind and if it keeps going in this direction, it will be a great haven for drunks, (more drunks) indigents, ghetto types, and a repeat of the 70’s, or worse.

See also: The Superblock Report 9/20/09, Superblock To Get More Study 9/11/09

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