Westchester Cities Prime for Private Development Growth
John Jordan | February 2016
TARRYTOWN—The multi-family construction boom, which has been going on in earnest in many U.S. gateway cities, such as New York City, Boston, Washington, DC, and San Francisco to name a few, is finally hitting the suburbs and major cities in Westchester County are now beginning to take advantage of the investment community’s attraction to rental apartment development.
White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson Yonkers Mayor Michael Spano and recently elected Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas recently discussed the impressive development pipeline in their respective cities, which are largely made up of large rental housing development ventures. The four mayors appeared on Jan. 22nd at the Business Council of Westchester’s Key Bank Speaker Series before a crowd of more than 200 guests at the breakfast session held at the Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown.
Mayor Bramson unveiled the city’s new brand—“New Rochelle-Ideally Yours” and was particularly upbeat about the Queen City’s prospects now that the City Council in late 2015 approved its proposed rezoning of the city’s downtown district.
The mayor characterized the rezoning as a “transformative vision” and “the most ambitious downtown redevelopment plan in our history” and in fact went further to say that the plan is the most ambitious in the Hudson Valley. The rezoning allows for expedited approvals along with the potential for a total build-out of 11 million square feet of new development. That would include approximately 5,500 housing units, nearly 1 million square feet of retail space, restaurants, more than 2 million square feet of commercial office/medical space, and 500 hotel rooms, although the mayor said the amount of hotel rooms could increase under the plan.
He said that the City Council approved the downtown plan by a unanimous vote and stressed that the redevelopment initiative is a bipartisan effort by city leaders to bring new development to the downtown district. The designated developer for the downtown redevelopment plan is RDRXR, a partnership of Renaissance Downtown and RXR Realty. RDRXR has an exclusive arrangement with the city to develop approximately 12 acres of publicly-owned properties in the downtown district. He said that most of those properties are currently parking lots and the developer would have to replace the parking in order to take title.
The mayor then noted that the rest of the downtown district, approximately 300 acres, could be redeveloped under the newly enacted and flexible zoning regulations that allow the property owner to be “market responsive.”
The maximum height that could be built under the transit-oriented development zoning regulations would be up to 48 stories in and around the New Rochelle Library.
A key to this redevelopment plan is the fact that the city has already completed the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the entire Downtown. The mayor said Downtown property owners will no longer have to subject their proposals to the lengthy SEQRA process, but instead would perhaps have to undertake supplemental environmental work.
“That is months out of the way, dollars that don’t need to be expended; it creates an entirely different climate in which the entire Downtown is shovel ready and that is enormously exciting,” Mayor Bramson said.
The mayor said that since the redevelopment plan’s passage in December the city has seen “significant activity” from the development community in the downtown district. The city is also undertaking a study to determine whether the city could use a world-class hotel and conference center.
Mayor Bramson at the Business Council event said that RXR Realty has proposed its first project, a 28-story building to be built on private property. (See “New Rochelle Mayor Hints at Major Development Project in Works” in this edition of Real Estate In-Depth).
The mayor who said “We’re popping” with new development proposals, added there were several large development proposals being discussed, but he was not ready to provide details, although he added that the projects might take shape by March or April. In addition, he detailed a proposed Print House housing project on Huguenot Street near the train station as well as a boutique hotel project.
Rental Housing Hot in White Plains
White Plains Mayor Roach provided perhaps one of the most optimistic statements of all the panelists when he predicted, “I think that every well-run city is going to do well in the years to come.”
A major facet of the projected growth will be in Downtown districts. “Everyone wants to build rental housing,” the mayor said and White Plains is no exception. The 55 Bank Street multifamily project that includes 561 housing units is now under construction by LCOR, and the White Plains Common Council recently approved the redevelopment of the outdated Westchester Pavilion mall. That $275-million project to be developed by Lennar Multifamily Communities will include two 24-story residential towers, 707 rental housing units and almost 94,000 square feet of retail space.
The city is also looking to explore possible redevelopment opportunities in and around the White Plains Transit Center. The city scheduled an open public meeting to explore possible ideas for the new transit district on Feb. 11 at the White Plains Public Library. The city received $1 million from New York State to fund the enhancement of transportation, including Bus Rapid Transit, at the White Plains Transit Center. The mayor noted that the city owns most of the property adjacent to the Metro North train station and wants to study possible best uses and does not intend to “just hand it over to a developer.”
Mayor Roach said that the city has seen a host of new multifamily projects come before city agencies. He said that the infill projects that have been completed have leased up quickly, showing keen demand for rental housing and affordable housing. Other notable projects in the pipeline include The Collection, a mixed-use 780,000-square-foot project across from Nordstrom’s on Westchester Ave., that will include rental housing, a hotel and street level retail and The Boulevard at the former Sholz dealership property on Post Road that will include retail and 11 townhomes.
He also said that there is a potential sale in the works of the Galleria Mall in White Plains, which could lead to “significant changes:” to the enclosed shopping center in the heart of the Downtown district.
Yonkers; Gateway to NYC
Yonkers Mayor Spano said that the city continues its Daylighting of the Saw Mill River in the Downtown District that has brought back the river to the downtown as well as several species of fish and birds.
He said that in addition to multifamily projects on the waterfront, the city has also seen a host of new hotel projects break ground. He said the city is much better off than it was four years ago and also highlighted a number of major redevelopment projects at the former Boyce Thompson Institute site, as well as the transformation of the old Yonkers City Jail site and the former Alexander Carpet Mills, which are both to be redeveloped into arts-oriented facilities. In addition, a number of entertainment-oriented companies are also investing in the city, he added.
The mayor said that Yonkers is “the gateway to New York City” and its location is attracting both businesses and new residents, particularly Millennials. He noted that the strength of the New York City economy is definitely benefitting the City of Yonkers as well as the rest of Westchester’s cities.
“We are seeing economic development in all sections of the city,” he noted.
He also discussed the improvements that have been accomplished with the Yonkers Public School system and noted that the city will be asking he state to help fund necessary infrastructure improvements to aging school buildings in the city (see story in this edition of Real Estate In-Depth).
Mount Vernon: Going Back to the Basics
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, who was elected mayor in November, said that there are a number of development projects that have broken ground. In addition, he said the city will be looking to adopt a rezoning of the West Side of the city, possibly similar to that of Long Island City.
However, he stressed, “My focus primarily is the basics. I want to make sure that we get our act together. There have been a lot of things that Mount Vernon has done from an historical standpoint that have been mistakes.”
The product of the Mount Vernon school system, Mayor Thomas touted the neighborhood schools in the city that make Mount Vernon a “walkable community.”
He added, “But, over time we have lost the opportunity to really bring that together. One of my focuses is to collaborate with the school district to make sure that we are advocating for our biggest liability to become our biggest asset.”
His administration also “has a keen focus” to improve its infrastructure. Mayor Thomas said that he has met with officials from the New York State Department of Transportation regarding conditions of its roads and bridges, including spans over the Metro North rail lines. He said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supportive of including Mount Vernon projects in the MTA capital plan. He also said that the city is looking to improve its own streets and roads as well.
“We are putting together a capital plan that makes sense,” Mayor Thomas said. He also said that the city is looking to improve the once vibrant but now blighted area of Third Street and Fourth Avenue.
The mayor said that the development pipeline in the City of Mount Vernon totals approximately $1 billion. However, for the city to catch up with its neighboring suburban metro centers, he said the city must focus on the basics, including public safety, to attract new development to the city.
“We are not that far behind,” Mayor Thomas said, “but I am taking a few steps back to ensure you see that there is quality leadership under new management and we are going to get the basics right before we start to think big.”
From left, Business Council of Westchester Executive Vice President and COO John Ravitz; KeyBank President Ruth Mahoney; Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano; New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson; White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach; Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas; BCW