It takes a hamlet to raise a field—a plan to raise the Bell field, gain parking
Local architect Chuck Napoli, with his Hamlet Revitalization Project
With 23 comments since publication
June 29, 2012
by Christine Yeres
Picture this: The Bell school field behind the shops on South Greeley raised above the poor drainage that plagues it, now a full-size turf field with parking for 400 cars underneath it, and a brand new row of shop fronts facing the South Greeley shop backs—only now they’re remade into second front facades—and it was all created by a private developer.
Hamlet Revitalization Project
Since architect Chuck Napoli first floated it in 1985, the plan has gathered fans. Over the years, many have found intriguing the idea of killing two old problems—a lousy Bell field and too little parking—at once. Drainage has always been an issue, but now improved methods of inserting pilings to create foundation have been invented.
And with the fairly recent realization that our local economy and its schools industry is almost completely dependent on residential taxes (97% residential versus 3% commercial), Napoli says his plan is meeting with more and more interest—from schools and town government, residents and merchants who have had a peek at it, some of whom met with him last Wednesday at a conference room in town hall.
At the noon meeting a merchant asked how much Napoli’s big plan would cost merchants in taxes. “It’s the opposite of taxes,” explained Napoli. “It’s a private development that will make more people want to visit here, live here, and spend money here.”
Napoli and Steve Giordano, a builder with whom he has worked over the years, intend to develop the project themselves—the two of them as a development and construction management team, a big advantage in controlling the process and the end product, and in preserving the integrity of the project.
Napoli, a 47-year resident of New Castle, envisions a new field, its parking below, and an additional 15,000 square feet of retail space. Add the office and residential space on the second and third floors, respectively, and that’s 58,000 new square feet. The $15 million project would, Napoli believes, supercharge a downtown that has long struggled to achieve a critical mass of merchants and downtown residences, and would cause all merchant boats to rise and, with them, commercial tax revenues to the town and schools.
Grass-roots market research, every Wednesday at town hall
Napoli and Giordano have contracted with market researchers and are pitching the project to financial backers. But Napoli is working another side of marketing research himself, asking merchants, residents and officials of New Castle to help him learn what people want and need within the framework of the raised field with parking underneath, and new retail, office and residential space he has laid out in his proposal.
Over the summer, every Wednesday at noon, you’ll find Napoli at town hall, ready to listen and to refine his plan accordingly. (Next week, because of the 4th of July holiday, the date is Friday, July 6, at 12 noon.) Here are some of the logistics of the project:
Old shops facing new would flank a pedestrian mall
With their backs to the field-and-parking garage, the new row of buildings would face the backs of the existing shops on South Greeley. These, as the shops in Mt. Kisco did years ago along South Moger, would refashion themselves to have two fronts.
The street space between the two rows would be wide enough for two vehicles to pass in and out for delivery purposes, but would otherwise function as a cobble-stoned pedestrian mall, closed to vehicles. The second-story offices of the new row of buildings could be entered from behind, at second-story level, by a walkway along the length of the field. At the meeting, a merchant suggested that the row of new ground-floor shops open directly into the parking garage in back.
In this view, the town’s Community Center is at top left, Bell in is the lower right corner, and half the field and the shops nearest the school are cut away to show the parking at ground level, under the field.
Performance space as an anchor
At the end of the new row of shops, behind the Community Center, Napoli’s plan shows a multi-purpose performing arts center with a footprint of around 6,000 square feet. It would be a two-story building with around 360 seats, for live performance, for films and lectures—all to draw people and their dollars to the downtown day and night.
But the performance space wouldn’t pay the rent on this $15 million project, says Napoli. And although the retailers and office-dwellers contribute to the vitality of a downtown—“They go out, they eat, they shop,” attested Napoli, who for many years had an office in the center of town—it’s the residential space that’s most profitable.
Along with the additional retail and office space, the market-rate housing Napoli pictures—a percentage of them affordable units—would be attractive to couples of any age.
How it would work
Napoli’s plan, he acknowledges, requires the fitting together of a lot of moving pieces, the cooperation of different entities. Here’s how he sees it:
The School District
Procure the Bell field from the school district. Lease it from the school district for 100 years for a minimal sum. As a field, it’s problematic. Holes, compacted soil and drainage problems all conspire to make it undesirable. For athletics, Bell relies almost exclusively on the field space directly in front of Bell and on the town’s Rec field across the street.
In exchange for the use of the flawed field, Napoli would return to the district a three-acre working turf field, perhaps one with a walking track surrounding it, and all the parking—for teachers and for events—the school district could want, from the 400-space lot underneath, a net increase of 250 spaces over the existing new parking lot (since Napoli would build the new row of buildings on much of it).
The properties of the existing landlords along South Greeley extend back nearly to the Bell field border. They, too,would lease their land to Napoli, who would own the buildings he constructs on it. He would enter into a development agreement, a land-lease, whereby one person owns the land, another owns the structures. Why will merchants enter into such an agreement? “A merchant and party to the land-lease,” explained Napoli, “would get both more foot traffic and more parking.”
To several merchants who worried that new shops might draw businesses to compete with their own, Napoli explained that, as the developer, he would have control over whom to accept as tenants. He would not seek to duplicate existing businesses. “We’d all work together to create the proper business mix,” he said. “For example, we’re not gonna want another food market the size of the Chappaqua Village Market.” (And in case anyone’s wondering, a resident asked about a full supermarket. “Not enough space,” replied Napoli.)
The gray shaded buildings are the new row of retail, office and residential space built along the side of the Bell field. Bell is in the upper right hand corner.
This past week’s changes
In Wednesday’s meeting with several merchants and residents, the performing arts space concept took a turn. Napoli wondered aloud whether the arts space anchor should be moved to the other end of the field, away from the Community Center and closer to Bell, in order to make performance space convenient also to the Bell school, which now makes do with its original auditorium just inside the north drop-off doors.
Napoli emphasizes that his plan is “in process,” still fluid at this point. He intends to hold informal meetings throughout the summer at the conference space at town hall to invite more ideas, and improve his plan accordingly. Another element of the plan that’s morphed already is the second story office space, second in profitability to residential space. Napoli is now looking to make more of it.
Toward the end of the one-hour meeting Wednesday, a merchant asked how the timing of Napoli’s project would fit in with the town’s plan to rip up South Greeley Avenue, then Lower King Street, to replace water and sewer lines next year and the year after. “Wouldn’t this be more disruption?” another asked, weary from bridge construction.
It takes a hamlet—and a whole look at it
“Until we look at this whole project—and the whole town—as one unit,” said Napoli, “it’s hard to say what should be first or second.” Some residents spoke to Napoli about constructing the parking and raised field first, so that parking could be in plentiful supply before either the town’s infrastructure or Napoli’s construction projects were to begin.
Town Supervisor Susan Carpenter, Planning Board member Tom Curley and Board of Ed member Randy Katchis attended a presentation by Napoli the week before. All three expressed interest in what they’d seen and heard, a willingness to see what might develop and learn what Napoli might need.
“So what happens now?” asked a merchant. “If everyone says ‘Yeah, we love it,’ what happens? Does the town say yes or no? Do people vote on it?”
“Well, the town board does its master plan,” said Napoli, “and we bring the town ‘a well-considered plan,’ and they consider it.”
“What about the landlords on South Greeley?” asked another. “If even one guy doesn’t want to build it…”
“Well,” said Napoli, “one of them told me ‘Hey, look—I can be bought.’ It’s a negotiation.”
Asked about the timeline on Wednesday, Napoli described the project as having four phases:
• Phase One, 10-12 months: Site preparation for the parking slab, construct parking slab and new field/roof
• Phase Two, 6-8 months: Site development, pedestrian street area, redecorate backs of existing South Greeley shops
• Phase Three, 14-18 months: Construct the row of new buildings
• Phase Four: 4 months: Pavers, site lighting, landscaping
More ideas born last Wednesday
A bubble over the field, so that it can be used year-round
An ice skating rink at the end of the raised field, behind the Community Center
A roof and pavilion to be used in summer
A basketball court at the community center end of the field
A walking track around the raised field
A sculpture garden with rotating artists
A funky, happening, upscale art garden with benches
A snowman contest in winter
Music like Tarrytown Music Hall
Rent to businesses like Jody’s Gym, that bring in little kids and their moms