Development, and Interest, in Yonkers Continues
New Construction, Plans & Transactions Dot Yonkers Landscape
By DAN MURPHY
As the never-ending New York City real estate boom continues, the buzz about the City of Yonkers as the next destination for younger generations, and those seeking to leave the city but remain close to the Big Apple, continues.
Articles highlighting Yonkers as the next destination; new construction of affordable housing, and market rate apartments; new acquisitions by developers, and a request for proposals for the Chicken Island portion of the downtown, all point to a possible renaissance or boom coming for the city.
“There are things that are happening which indicate that we're seeing a renaissance,” said Mayor Mike Spano. “We're seeing a turnaround, a new direction. Yonkers is on the cusp of something great.”
Spano, has presided over the following projects, planned and underway:
Last month, the city released its request for proposal to develop the downtown area known as “Chicken Island.” The prime piece of downtown real estate went through years of development proposals and options, submitted by developers Streuver, Fidelco, Cappelli, before the recession of 2008 brought all development in the country to a halt.
Spano and the city are now seeking a new partner to redevelop Chicken Island, located in Getty Square next to City Hall. “Chicken Island is prime real estate in our city that will continue the revitalization of our downtown district,” he said. “We are asking for plans that are practical that will improve the downtown experience and that have sufficient financial backing. It’s finally time for bricks and mortar on the ground.”
Coined “Chicken Island” in the late 1800s when a small island in the Saw Mill River was used as a local chicken farm, the six-acre site is located to the northeast of Yonkers City Hall. It is zoned downtown mixed-use, a high-density zone permitting development up to 25 stories and which permits a wide variety of uses including retail, restaurant, office and colleges, as well as live-work, micro-units or other innovative residential uses.
“The direction of the development should be in accordance with what the market dictates, as well as what makes sense for the people of Yonkers,” said Spano.
As stated in the RFP, the city also seeks to identify and create new institutional uses for new or existing educational, cultural and/or arts facilities, or other beneficial community uses, to add to the vitality of downtown Yonkers. The city encourages collaborations between the developer and institutions interested in maintaining a downtown presence to create a dynamic downtown and culturally vibrant civic center district.
In his announcement of the Chicken Island RFP, Spano recapped significant progress made downtown since he took office in 2012, including:
Sarah Lawrence College’s opening of the Center for the Urban River at the Beczak Environmental Education Center; Daniel Wolf and world-renowned architect Maya Lin purchasing of the historic city jail, which they plan to convert into space for their art business and studios; completion of the third phase of the Collins waterfront development project, a 220-unit residential tower alongside the Hudson River; restoration of the public park and shoreline at Palisades Point; the creation of 220-plus units at the Teutonia Hall site (Buena Vista Avenue);
Rising Development Yonkers projects on Nepperhan Street, and in the Mill Street Courtyard, which includes the second phase of the Saw Mill River daylighting project. The opening of 92 affordable housing units at 49 North Broadway; the opening of the Warburton Garage; and construction to begin this year on phase III of the daylighting project at New Main Street.
For more information on this newly-released RFP, visit www.yonkersny.gov/RFP .
The sole remaining member of the SFC development team, Fidelco Realty Group, recently cut the ribbon for its redevelopment of the old Public Library on Main Street. Library Lofts, a multi-million dollar, mixed-use redevelopment on the corner of Main Street and Mill Street includes 23 rental loft apartments on the upper floors, along with 9,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, currently occupied by Deals.
The residential lofts feature studio, one- and two-bedroom rental apartments. Additional amenities unique to the building are an outside patio area, rooftop terrace and state-of-the-art fitness center. Artwork from Biagio Civale and his Yonkers art gallery decorate the main residential lobby and common areas.
The project was financed through a combination of developer capital and a Restore New York grant through the Empire State Development Corporation.
“The opening of this historic renovation is the proof of success demonstrating how public-private partnerships can have a tangible impact in stimulating community development,” said Marc Berson, Fidelco Realty Group chairman. “The forward-thinking approach has brought new residents and retail opportunities to Yonkers and new life for an historic but abandoned property.”
The City of Yonkers secured a Restore New York grant of $5.45 million in 2010 for the purpose of restoring and rehabilitating the former library. The redevelopment preserves the building’s historic character and restores its façade.
“We’re so proud to welcome another luxury residential building to Yonkers’ growing Downtown Waterfront District,” said Spano. “With the addition of Library Lofts, our growing arts community and business-friendly environment just minutes from Manhattan, Yonkers is quickly becoming the city to do business in. I want to thank Fidelco Realty Group and New York State for continuing to invest in our city.”
The property’s rich history dates back to the early 1900s, when it was originally the Hamilton Theater and Marshall Mathewson Department Store. The site had been abandoned since the library moved to a new facility on the waterfront in 2002.
A recent issue of Real Estate Weekly featured Yonkers, with the headline: “Yonkers luring young professionals with cheaper prices, proximity to city.”
The article states: “While surrounding neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Queens’ Astoria have already begun to teem with 20- and 30-somethings looking for affordable housing, it would be wise to not overlook the neighbor to the north.
“‘Yonkers has so much positive with regard to the housing side of business,’ said Gabe Pasquale, executive vice president at Douglas Ellman. ‘Start with the commuting access into Manhattan and then combine that with the affordability based on how much more house you’re going to get for the money.’
“Pasquale labeled Cedar Knoll, Colonial Heights, Westchester Hills, Lawrence Park West and Longvale as neighborhoods in Yonkers high on his ‘watch list’ for residential value. He made a point to single out Park Hill as a community that appeals to the “younger, hipper buyer” that may not be ready for the high prices of a Scarsdale.
“Carolina Encarnacio, an agent with DJK Residential that specializes in residential real estate in Yonkers, agrees. ‘If you look at Williamsburg in Brooklyn, what it was a few years ago, it was empty factories and buildings,’ she said. ‘In the last seven years you can’t recognize it because of the proximity it has to the city and people who are looking for alternatives.’
“For now, there is little sign of a break in development, as Yonkers begins to morph into yet another vibrant community thriving off the allure of Times Square.”
Fifty-nine units of affordable housing are being created at the long-vacant Longfellow School on Mulberry Street.
Empty since 1976, Longfellow has been the subject of various redevelopment plans, even as it suffered fire damage, roof damage and other deterioration over the years. “At this point, the best plan is to knock it down and replace it with something new,” said Spano. “We will take this eyesore and put 59 homes there that people badly need.”
The Yonkers-based Greyston Foundation, along with the developers Bluestone Organization and Hudson Companies, will develop and manage the project through a joint entity, HB Longfellow Realty, LLC.
The city, which owns the 0.8-acre site, will donate the property. The Yonkers Industrial Development Agency will provide an estimated $540,000 sales tax exemption for materials used in the construction of the project, an estimated $367,000 mortgage tax exemption, and will also negotiate a temporary property tax abatement.
The Longfellow project will serve a wide variety of affordable housing needs, including individuals and veterans with disabilities. “This plan includes groups whose needs are often not included in affordable housing development,” said Westchester County Legislator and Yonkers IDA President Ken Jenkins. “This is a model of how to best provide affordable housing.”
The 59 units will serve people making between 30 percent of the area median income and 60 percent of the median; nine of the 59 units will be set aside for people with disabilities, in which services will be provided by Richmond Community Services.
The project is estimated to cost $22 million and will take approximately 24 months to complete, and will provide approximately 250 construction jobs during that period.
Grant Park II
The city also recently celebrated the groundbreaking for Grant Park II, the latest phase of the Ashburton Avenue revitalization program, in which 56 new units of affordable housing will be built on the site of the former Mulford Gardens in the Ashburton Avenue corridor.
Grant Park II is the fourth phase of the redevelopment of the public housing complex, and consists of two four-story buildings that will contain a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. They are being made available to individuals and households earning at or below 60 percent of the median income.
“This is the latest phase of transforming the deteriorated Mulford Gardens into modern and desirable homes for the people of Yonkers,” said Spano, who is chairman of the YIDA board. “We’re not just providing better homes for people who need them, but we’re providing a better neighborhood, and that helps the entire city. This is another step forward for the City of Yonkers.”
Grant Park II is a public-private partnership led by the Richman Group Development Corporation, the Landex Companies, the Municipal Housing Authority of the City of Yonkers, New York State Homes and Community Renewal, and YIDA.
Residents of the new apartments will have access to the community facilities on the adjacent 100-unit Grant Park I housing project, which opened in 2012 and includes a playground and community center. The new apartments were built in accordance with Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design standards, including energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and appliances.
The $23 million project is expected to be completed in September 2015.
On Tuckahoe Road, the IDA recently announced assistance to facilitate a 150-room hotel in a five-story, 188,000-square-foot building on vacant land located at 555 Tuckahoe Road, adjacent to the POP Displays building. It will be developed by an affiliate of Al Weissman Real Estate, which owns the land.
A new hotel at the Cross County Shopping Center is under construction and two hotels on Executive Boulevard were built over the past five years. “With two other hotels already in various stages of development within the past year alone, this is a strong indicator of the city’s growing attraction as a destination for business and leisure travel,” said Spano. “It’s the business community casting a vote of confidence in the city’s favor.”
The hotel will provide an estimated 50 permanent positions ranging in pay from $22,000 to $100,000, as well as 200 temporary construction jobs. The developers expect to spend $12 million in construction costs, plus another $3 million in fit-out costs.
“As a vacant lot, this property is contributing virtually nothing to the city’s economy,” said YIDA President Jenkins. “In the future it will provide jobs, as well as expand the tax base by paying income, sales, property and occupancy taxes.”
According to the recent YIDA authorization, the project will receive incentives including an estimated $270,000 mortgage tax exemption, an estimated $653,250 exemption on sales taxes for construction materials, plus a temporary property tax incentive that is still to be negotiated.
Alder Manor and Bosch Hall
A historical gem along the Hudson was recently sold in Yonkers. Steve McCulloch and Rich Hendey of Houlihan Parnes Realtors announced the sale of the Tara Circle property also known as Alder Manor and Bosch Hall, located at 1097 North Broadway, for $5.5 million. The buyer was the Goren Group, which is also renovating the Glenwood Power Plant (see below.)
The property consists of an architecturally significant manor house of 35,000 square feet, built in 1908 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the manor house, the 5.67-acres site also includes a former school building known as Bosch Hall, consisting of 51,000 square feet and built in 1962.
Glenwood Power Plant
The ongoing renovation and redevelopment of Glenwood Power Plant, located on the Hudson River, was featured in the New York Times last month by reporter C. J. Hughes.
The Goren Group will invest $150 million to turn the four-acre site and 165,000 square feet of buildings into a center of arts and recreation. It has begun the $70 million first phase of the project and is cleaning the site, and reconstructed the walls and floors of the mammoth building.
Loren Goren, founder of the Goren Group, said she will keep the “aesthetics perspective to preserve the raw industrial feeling” and “respect what’s there.”
A second phase, to be completed over the next decade, will include a hotel, restaurants and great room that could accommodate 3,000 people for conventions or art galleries and shows.
Goren recently bought out her original partner in the project, Yonkers business owner and real estate holder Ron Shemesh, who relocated his business after Hurricane Sandy.
Goren, who has worked on acquisition and conversion projects in New York City, hopes to obtain state and federal tax credits to pay for the cost of the renovation. She told the Times: “I’m attracted to very magical spaces.”
Dan Murphy is editor of Rising Media Group.
Mayor Mike Spano Becomes Proficient in Doublespeak
By HEZI ARIS
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano’s administration has become ever more proficient in disguising the truth. They have learned to engage in Doublespeak. Doublespeak has its roots in George Orwell‘s book, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Parallels have also been drawn between Doublespeak and Orwell’s classic essay Politics and the English Language, which discusses the distortion of language for political purposes. George Carlin poked fun at the ridiculousness of it all, and George Orwell observed that political language serves to distort and obfuscate reality. With respect to economic development projects in Yonkers, it is revealed how little has transpired over the past 2½ years despite the doublespeak expressions suggesting otherwise. Let’s look at what has been reported, protected as it is by the creation of necessary illusions in articles printed this past week in The Journal News.
The first cerebral assault was revealed in a July 16, 2014, article written by reporter Ernie Garcia. It spoke to the Yonkers’ Library Lofts Complete. The article pronounces, “The conversion of the former Yonkers Public Library building into apartments is complete.” The article advises that officials from Fidelco Realty Group and the City of Yonkers are to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Library Lofts (http://www.library-lofts.com ) on July 23rd. The article acknowledges the 22-unit complex at 5 Main Street, mentioning that the first tenant is operating on the ground floor, but no apartment dwellers yet. Why was the store not mentioned by name? “Deals” has been operating for a few months. The Library Lofts were originally intentioned to be the offices of developers Stuever Fidelco Cappelli (SFC). The demise of Struever and Capelli left only The Fidelco Realty Group at the helm. The article emphasizes the adaptively-reused project, asserted to be valued at $10.5 million, having gained a $5.4 million historic-preservation grant from the Empire State Development Corporation. Yonkersites, whom I suggest are among the most politically astute and aware, are wondering how much did the Fidelco Realty Group invest in this project? Did they make any investment in the project or is this OEM, other people’s money, a euphemism for the taxpayer’s money! Why did it take over 13 years for it to be completed? But most importantly, when will the Library Lofts generate revenue for the City of Yonkers (CoY)? And how much will it amount to, and when will CoY get a return for taxpayer’s investments? How many local people will be employed?
Fidelco Realty Group seems to look like a “nice” operation, yet they have lied to Mayor Mike Spano. The insult suffered by Yonkersites is the public pronouncement by Marc Berson, Chairman of The Fidelco Group, when he pronounced last November 2013, at a press conference, which he conducted in conjunction with Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, at which he asserted he would have renderings that would reveal the vision Fidelco had developed for the SFC Yonkers development parcel designated as “H & I”. No rendering has yet come to light. The transparent conduct said to permeate governance in Yonkers by Mayor Mike Spano is a coverup being hidden by the “silence” and evident inability by The Fidelco Group to come through with a rendering that is now 6-months later than the deadline Mr Berson set for himself when he advised he would have a rendering in 3-months time. Why the delay? A delay of 13-years and no concept or plan! At issue now, if not considered in the past, is the financial capacity of The Fidelco Group. Are they solvent? Do they have a solid credit rating? When are they going to reveal their plan? When will they start? When will they finish? Are they to be penalized if they do not meet the deadlines within parameters of leniency? How much will they be penalized? Did they have the financing in place to see the completion of the project? And how much revenue will they generate for CoY? Likely a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) scheme is part of their deal. When does it expire? When it does, how much will CoY earn? There are more concerns. Yonkersites are aghast at the games that continue-to be played!!!
The article continues to extol that Phase II of the daylighted Saw Mill River Project included a ground breaking ceremony in March for Mill Street. When is the project to be completed? What will it generate for Yonkers coffers and when?
Next we learn of Homes for America CEO Robert McFarlane who is said in an article by Ernie Garcia that Yonkers Deadbeat Developer’s Debt Now $6.5 Million. The article was posted on July 18, 2014. CoY is asking the court to award it a $6,451,513.22 judgment against the bankrupt developer of 86 Main St. for a loan he is alleged to have defaulted upon. A hearing with respect to this issue will be heard on July 23rd, 2014. CoY advises a $3 million HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 108 Loan Guarantee is delinquent. CoY is on the hook to make payment should no compensation can or will be consummated. Yonkersites know full well how the SFC Project consumed an inordinate amount of time and attention by lawyer Al DelBello who represented SFC Yonkers, Homes for America Housing, among others. Attempting to salvage the evident demise of Cappelli Enterprises, DelBello placed MacFarlane and Homes for America Housing Station Plaza property on hold n order to focus on SFC. By the time SFC Yonkers was recognized to be a financial basket case, the financing needed by MacFarlane to complete his project came to realize that financing opportunities had dried up. Thank you to Phil Amicone and his bulldog economic czar Ed Sheeren, who fought tooth and nail to thwart MacFarlane’s project from ever coming to fruition. While MacFarlane was not a saint, he would come to appreciate that the insiders who would not welcome him into their fold played him. He was not one of them and they were intent on crushing him. At issue to this writer is why has CoY not gone after the funds owed by Joe Cotter, who is also delinquent in paying his HUD loan? Why have Cappelli Enterprises and Fidelco Realty Group also not paid the HUD loans they borrowed and not paid in full? CoY’s saying that they received the money is not provable to anyone. Where is the verifiable proof? Talk means nothing. Please remember this is Yonkers 2014, not Berlin 1942. The worst part of it all is that no responsibility is ever placed on former Mayor Phil Amicone’s conduct that lacked scrutiny with respect to taxpayer’s money while the financial world was collapsing on Yonkers. Besides, even when Amicone was succeeded by Mayor Mike Spano, Amicone always came to the defense of Joe Cotter and Mayor Spano gave in. Amicone lobbied on Joe Cotter’s behalf before Mayor Mike Spano. The result, Joe Cotter’s operations have not been sued but he owes Yonkers big time. I am sure one can come up with a doublespeak term that refers to Yonkers Corporation Counsel having other more important concerns than to exact payment from the delinquent Joe Cotter and his operations in the city. There is so much depth to the Joe Cotter operation that is would take too long to write about… there are other more important things to attend to. In the meanwhile, ruminate on N-Valley Technology Center. A lesson in high finance that is born on the back of the taxpayer can be engaged in future discussion. Basically buy low, sell for higher, and repeat up to a point, pivot and take a loss for selling for less, take a tax loss credit, repeat up to a point and then reverse, and start the process again. At minimum two entities must play, it is better if there are more than two at play, because it looks better and may be a better camouflage in an attempt to outsmart the IRS.
Next, we learn about that Yonkers Alder Manor to Get $3 Million Makeover(July 19, 2014), also written by Ernie Garcia. Mr. Garcia writes, “The historic Alder Manor will get a $3 million renovation by its new owner. The Plant Manor of New York City outlined its intentions in an application for financial assistance with the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency. The Plant Manor, headed by Lela Goren, paid $5.5 million for the mansion and it seeks a sales tax exemption of $167,500 and an undetermined real estate tax break. The YIDA board will vote on the application on Wednesday at their monthly meeting. A value for compensating the Yonkers Board of Education was never concluded, much less satisfied. The property consists of an architecturally significant manor house of 35,000 square feet built in 1908 that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site also includes a former school building known as Bosch Hall consisting of 51,000 square feet and built in 1962.”
Bosch Hall was stolen from the Yonkers Board of Education and the property was never compensated for the value of the property. One must wonder why. Even so, by the time anyone looks into it, the history of the transactions will be lost. Under Mayor Mike Spano’s administration all Real Estate deals, information and transaction dates going back decades were burned because storage space could not be found or created to maintain the information and never transferred to any digital media. Even the cost of the “alleged” purchase of Tara Circle was assisted by Hudson Valley Bank. Was HVB ever paid in full for the note of $1.2 million. No proof exists and no one will speak to the financial scam that ensued and thereby became part of a major cover-up. The note was not satisfied and there is no proof to that affect. More importantly, why does the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency or any funding source give approval before the developer has proven their financial solvency to complete a project or projects prior to public notice of the project they are to build? Yonkers has learned to conduct its business a*s-backwards. Even so, it still stinks. Then again, what is the point? Where is the Yonkers Inspector General, the NYS Attorney General, or any officer (officials) out there that can take on this mess and skullduggery?
Lastly, take a look at the notice sent out on July 18, 2014 to advise of the Public Notice for a Yonkers IDA meeting for Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014, at 9:00 a.m., to be held in the Mayor’s Conference Room. There is a hyperlink one is urged to visit: www.yonkersida.com for “notice and agenda”, yet this same repetitive conduct reveals nothing about the upcoming agenda. In other words, the conduct of obfuscation, doublespeak, and haughty meaningless terms and phrases have evolved from Ellen Lynch, to Melvina Carter, to Ken Jenkins in the same manner. It seems Phil Amicone and Mayor Mike Spano must be the best of friends. They do exactly the same thing. They must also be infested by the same fleas that thrive in darkness in the world of doublespeak and duplicity.
Plausible deniability can no longer be justified by this hypocrisy. Even so with only 17 months before the mayoral re-election effort by Mayor Mike Spano, can he afford to continue this game? Let’s face it… storms are all about us. The ballooning housing costs in China are scaring financial markets worldwide. Same with respect to the crisis in Nigeria, Gaza vs Israel, Ukraine vs Russia, faltering economies worldwide, and federal and state coffers as empty as that of CoY. Let’s not forget how union contracts are still not resolved.
A saving face on all this is the fact that many Yonkersites are on vacation, CoY will be ready for the new school year in September, the campaign efforts will be in full swing, elections will be decided in the second Tuesday in November, followed by a Thanksgiving Day repast, then the delight of Christmas bells and cheer, followed by New Year’s Day, more vacation time, and the process begins once again with nothing getting done. This administration is waiting out the clock and they are adept at it.
The prospects for Yonkers look dismal. Too many union contracts still not consummated, delinquent loans not paid, extensions on development projects that will not move forward unless taxpayer money underwrite them, and another budget deficit already noted to be at the $70 million level for next year’s budget looms.
When will this horror end? Perhaps only when those in elected office learn to speak English.