Columbia buying failed Riverdale development

By John DeSio | May 16, 2008 01:32PM

The down real estate market has dealt a major blow to one developer in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale. L&M Equity Partners and its affiliate Hudson Arlington Associates, the firm behind The Arbor, a 127-unit condo at 3260 Henry Hudson Parkway, has taken that property off the market and is selling it to Columbia University.

“Columbia has agreed in principle to purchase the residential building now under construction at 3260 Henry Hudson Parkway for housing faculty members, graduate students and their families. After a period of due diligence, the university hopes to finalize the purchase soon,” said Robert Hornsby, Columbia’s director of media relations, who offered no further details on the sale.

Hudson Arlington Associates declined to comment on the impending sale, which has Riverdale’s real estate community buzzing.

The wholesale purchase of an entire building by a nonprofit, even one as deep-pocketed as Columbia, is not giving local brokers great confidence in the future of Riverdale’s real estate market.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing,” said Robert Wachsman, president of Riverdale Homes.

Brokers say that only 13 apartments in the still-unfinished Arbor had entered into sale agreements. Some observers say they believe the project’s high prices and unappealing design slowed sales. Units at the Arbor ranged between $400,000 and $900,000, too high for Riverdale, Wachsman said.

Wachsman noted that Riverdale buyers have plenty of options: the building boom that hit the leafy neighborhood near Westchester about four years ago created close to 1,000 new co-op apartments, most of which were marketed to buyers being priced out of Manhattan.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has been a critic of the Arbor project since 2005, when the site, previously occupied by the Baptist Home for the Aged, was purchased for development. At the time, he argued that developers were creating new housing that the neighborhood did not need in a rush to profit from rising real estate prices.

“A developer saw a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and in fact found a pile of debt instead,” said Dinowitz.

Even the impending sale hasn’t placated Dinowitz.

“I’m not happy that this is happening,” said Dinowitz. He said he worries that Columbia’s future tenants at the Arbor might have only tenuous links the Riverdale community and few reasons to care about the neighborhood.

“My preference would be for a building that would attract families to our community,” said Dinowitz. “And while the people that move in might be very nice, almost by definition this would be a building that will have a high turnover rate. And that’s generally not a good thing.”

Some local river estate watchers see the Arbor as a cautionary tale for developers who need to be flexible with prices in a slowing market.

“There’s still a market here for lower-priced apartments,” Wachsman said. “Everyone reads the press, and the gloom and doom, and buyers are adjusting to that. Sellers need to adjust accordingly.”