GATEWAY PERSPECTIVES: The Odyssey
Richard Haggerty | March 2016
During the summer of 1984, I “temped” at the then Westchester County Board of Realtors located at 59 South Broadway in White Plains. I had been temping for about four months as I looked for a permanent position in the publishing field in the city. By October of that year my predecessor, Gil Mercurio, offered me a job that I quickly accepted and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Board offices back in 1984 consisted of approximately 3,500 square feet on the ground floor with the addition of another 3,500 square feet in the basement where our only classroom was located. It was a windowless space and at best we could only fit in about 35 students. Several years later WCBR had the opportunity to double our space by taking over an empty office next door and Gil jumped at the chance. We were then able to create a much larger classroom on the ground floor with natural light, a tremendous improvement.
However, over the years, our location at 59 South Broadway was weighed down by three factors— a difficult landlord, a deteriorating building, and limited parking, so we continued to look at other options. Twice the Board conducted membership meetings on the prospective purchase of buildings. The first was the old garage at the original Macy’s site in White Plains. Fortuitously that purchase was not approved as the old Macy’s building and the garage were eventually demolished to make way for City Center. The second involved the purchase of a building in North White Plains where the Board would also have assumed the role of landlord, as we would only have utilized a portion of the space. That purchase also failed to be approved.
On numerous occasions the Board looked to other locations to rent and, again, came very close to entering into leases on two occasions only to have the rug pulled out from underneath us in both instances. Finally, in 2007, Gil Mercurio with the expert assistance of past president Hank Fries looked across the street at the Westchester Pavilion Mall and said, what about that location! Everything clicked and after the negotiation of a long-term lease and an extensive buildout, we moved from 59 South Broadway to brand new space at 60 South Broadway, fully anticipating that we would not have to worry about another move for many, many years to come.
Alas, it was not meant to be. The recession as well as online giants such as Amazon had a profound effect on big box retailers like Border’s Book Store and Sport’s Authority, and as the years went by the Pavilion couldn’t compete with newer developments like City Center in White Plains. Our landlord, Urstadt Biddle Properties, approached us approximately two years ago with the strategy of moving HGAR out of our current space so the mall could be demolished and redeveloped, and then moving us back into the redeveloped space. That plan was subsequently scrapped when Urstadt Biddle decided to sell the site outright to an affiliate of Lennar that did not envision office space in their development.
HGAR spent almost a year looking at alternative locations for a permanent move of our White Plains headquarters and after a protracted negotiation that involved a lot of creative thinking, we settled on the top floor of One Maple Ave. in White Plains, the former location of Fortunoff. The build-out of the raw space, which began in earnest in December of this year, has proceeded with amazing speed, thanks primarily to our architect, MKDA LLC, our building contractor, William A. Kelly & Company, and our current landlord, Urstadt Biddle, who is picking up the tab for all of the costs associated with the build-out and the move. The new space will feature two classrooms separated by an airfold sky wall that retracts into the ceiling to create one large classroom when necessary. The space also features a row of newly installed windows and four skylights creating an abundance of natural light.
Our prospective move date is just a few short weeks away on April 1st (let’s hope that date is not an ill omen!). We plan on being open for business on April 4th, fingers crossed. This whole process has indeed seemed as long as Homer’s Odyssey, but just as Odysseus finally reached home after a 10-year voyage, I believe that our new offices at One Maple Ave. will be our home for many years to come.