Saks pulls out at Forest City’s Yonkers project

Saks Fifth Avenue is pulling out of Forest City Enterprises’ controversial Ridge Hill real estate project in Westchester County, raising further questions about the future of the $685 million mixed-use complex.

Forest City announced yesterday that Saks pulled out as the anchor tenant of the project, less than a year from signing a deal to develop an 80,000-square-foot store at the Yonkers site, making it the chain’s only store in Westchester County. Saks told The Real Deal that the developer failed to meet a key provision of the deal.

“Saks Fifth Avenue had signed a letter of intent to be a part of the Ridge Hill development, but Forest City was unable to secure our agreed upon list of co-tenants for the development,” said Julia Bentley, spokesperson for Saks.

She declined to name who was on that list, however Forest City noted that other tenants have already committed to the project, including Whole Foods, Cheesecake Factory, Cinema DeLux, Sephora and Loft.

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Jeff Linton, vice president of communications at Forest City Enterprises, confirmed that Forest City failed to meet the co-tenant agreement, explaining that retailers were reluctant to commit so far ahead of the scheduled  opening in 2011.
“Saks would have been an ideal fit there,” Linton told The Real Deal. “What precisely might take their place is a little hard to say. Certainly need to be very creative in finding out what the right answer is.”

Ridge Hill, located at 1 Ridge Hill Road in Yonkers, between the New York State Thruway and the Sprain Brook Parkway, is one of the largest, and most controversial, real estate projects in Westchester history. The project is set to include 150,000 square feet of office and research space, 1,000 units of housing and eventually a hotel.

In January, federal officials indicted Sandy Annabi , a staunch opponent of the project and the former Democratic majority leader of the Yonkers City Council, for changing her vote on Ridge Hill after receiving $166,000 in loans and other payments.
Zehy Jereis, the former head of the Yonkers Democratic Party and attorney Anthony Mangone were charged with conspiracy in the case, and Jereis allegedly bought an apartment for Annabi to help her maintain her residency requirement while she worked as a council member.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office said that Forest City was involved in the case. Susan Brody, attorney for Annabi, declined to comment.

Bentley said Saks will continue to look for other locations in the area.