Reimagining what’s across the water

Growing up on Long Island, Joseph Graziose, senior vice president of residential development for RXR, used to gaze out across the Long Island Sound at New Rochelle and wonder what it was like. Now he’s helping it grow.

When Joseph Graziose was a child growing up in Glen Cove on Long Island’s North Shore, he would gaze across the water.

“When you walked the beach, you’d always look across the Long Island Sound. You can see the Bronx and to the right of that you see a location that had a handful of buildings. And I always said to myself, ‘I wonder what’s over there,’” Graziose recalls.

He went to college in Boston so he got a closer look while passing by on I-95, but he still didn’t really know what was there. The signs said, “New Rochelle,” but it didn’t mean anything in particular to him. 

Eventually a friend studying at Fordham University took Graziose to New Roc City for a night out.

“And I said, ‘All right, well, New Rochelle is a place that has a bowling alley and a movie theater,’” he says. 

Graziose, now the senior vice president of residential development for RXR, has a different understanding of the city since his firm took on the job of developing a new master plan for it. That means not only creating its own projects — like One Clinton Park, a silver-metal and blue-glass multiuse property at 55 Clinton St. — but coordinating those of other developers.

“We’re here to create community and we’re here to create place,” he says. “There’s a lot going on. Now there are also a lot of people thinking really hard about what it could be and we started to make that happen. It’s really great for a guy like me, who’s spent so much time looking across the water at this place to really play a vital role in creating what’s happening there.”

And there is a lot happening in New Rochelle these days. Under the direction of RXR, Graziose says, there’s an increased emphasis on walkability and upgraded infrastructure that will make New Rochelle’s downtown more appealing than ever, particularly at street level. In the short term, it does mean a spike in roadwork as water mains and sewage systems are updated. But those are the roots from which a strong city and market will grow, he adds.

RXR began working on responding to the city’s request for a proposal to become master developer in 2014 and has been reshaping New Rochelle since being selected for that role a year later. “We’ve been lucky to be the master developers, and I think we’ve been a great partner for the city ever since,” Graziose says. “We’re going through the process of rezoning and developing a form-based zoning code for the city.”

Graziose describes one of the key aspects of the master plan being the efforts to increase density, particularly residential density. He points to RXR projects that have provided hundreds of new units that are already seeing leasing rates of up to 98% and have attracted other developers to the area. 360 Huguenot, a 28-story apartment building named not only for its location on Huguenot Street but for its 360-degree views of the Long Island Sound, Westchester County and the Manhattan skyline, is a point of particular pride. A tenth of its 280 units are affordable housing.

“It’s been interesting to watch,” Graziose says, “They’re sort of putting in new retail landscaping in downtown New Rochelle. It’s really exciting the level of activity especially over the last six to nine months of new retailers coming into downtown looking for either first-generation new spaces or second-generation existing spaces and really seeing the resurgence.”

The result Graziose is looking for though is not “rebuilding” the city but regenerating it. 

“New Rochelle is certainly its own distinct entity,” he says. “It’s got its own DNA, and it’s DNA it should be proud of.  Our philosophy is that we are doing good when the communities we are operating in are successful as well. We never thought we would come into New Rochelle, build a building and leave. We wanted to make sure that we brought our DNA to New Rochelle and we embraced what was there and at the same time also became part of the community.”

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