Yonkers goes bonkers: Inside the city's development boom

Thanks to loads of tax incentives, construction is going strong in Westchester’s southern city

Mar.March 03, 2020 12:00 PM

The Yonkers waterfront and Alexander Street corridor, along the train tracks.

A decade or so ago, local builders like Ginsburg Development Corporation’s Martin Ginsburg created the initial spark for redevelopment in Yonkers, which has since ignited a full-blown boom. Now regional and national players like Lionsgate, RXR, Extell, Rose Associates and AMS Acquisitions are a vital part of the city’s current surge in development.

Thanks in large part to the work of the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency (IDA), a public benefit corporation that hands out tax breaks and other incentives to developers, new building projects are proliferating beyond the construction-heavy downtown waterfront to other parts of the city.

In 2019, the city’s IDA provided financial incentives to nearly a dozen projects representing a total private investment of $851 million. The developments are projected to create 2,246 new residential units, 105,430 square feet of retail and commercial space, and 1,953 construction and permanent and part-time jobs.

“The city has been pro-development and business friendly,” said regional manager of Houlihan Lawrence’s commercial group, Garry Klein. “You can’t say that about a lot of other places in Westchester.”

Among the projects that won IDA incentives in 2019 were Point Street Landing, Extell Development’s $502 million mixed-use waterfront project; 57 Alexander Street, a $177.3 million residential development by Manhattan-based Rose Associates that will break ground this summer; and a $43.4 million residential development by Yonkers-based Westhab.

According to the Yonkers Department of Planning and Development, more than $3.8 billion in development projects have been approved, under way and completed in the city in the last eight years. These projects represent more than 9,100 new residential units and 2.3 million square feet of commercial space.

“I liken what Yonkers is doing downtown to what Manhattan did along the West Side,” Klein said. “It’s sort of a Battery Park North, and it’s a lot of the same developers.”

So far, new multifamily rental buildings — and not condos — have been the main game in Yonkers.

“It’s what’s driving the market — it’s what the banks want,” said Wilson Kimball, the city’s commissioner of planning and development. “Financing is out there for rentals, but not for condos.”

David Garten, senior vice president at RXR Realty, which has three mixed-use buildings in the works at Sawyer Place, agreed with that assessment. “In these suburban downtowns, the condo market is not quite there,” he said.

Rental projects are “typically the first wave, phase one of the redevelopment process,” said Michael Mitnick, managing principal of Madison Avenue-based AMS Acquisitions. “Once that solidifies you’ll start to get for-sale product,” he said. “Supplemental to that, as rental keeps coming along en masse, retail takes form.”

Apartment rents in the city averaged about $2,065 in December 2019 — up 3 percent from the year prior, according to a study by RentCafe.

The down low on Ludlow

In southwest Yonkers, on the border with Riverdale and the Bronx, the Ludlow area will soon get two projects from Ginsburg Development Companies (GDC). Ludlow Point and 70 Pier Street will offer a combined 550 rental apartments on the waterfront.

Like most of the projects coming to Yonkers, these are transit-oriented developments centered around one of the city’s Metro-North train stations (Ludlow in this case), which can whisk commuters into Grand Central Terminal in 30 minutes or less.

As part of the area’s redevelopment, the city is planning a comprehensive rezoning of the property surrounding the Ludlow train station, which has been designated primarily for industrial use.

The city should complete its rezoning of the area by mid-2020, Yonkers planning director Lee Ellman said.

“The zoning there is antiquated,” he said. “Principally, we want to turn the industrial zoning into mixed-use zoning that is very much like what we have downtown. It allows residential, retail and commercial and some light industry. That allows the market to decide what happens.”

Ludlow Point, a $199.7 million investment and the larger of the two GDC projects, will be the centerpiece of the new Ludlow Station Area Master Plan. The project consists of 520 residential units in two 10-story and two 11-story towers at 150 Downing Street. Ten percent — or, about 52 units — will be affordable under the Yonkers Affordable Housing Ordinance.

Ludlow Point has been awarded more than $7 million in tax abatements from IDA. The vacant 2.26-acre site was formerly used by the city’s Public Works Department for storage.

Downtown’s biggest projects

So far, GDC is the only big developer that has expressed interest in the Ludlow Street corridor. Most of the development activity remains along downtown’s Hudson River spine, where high-rise rental towers, construction cranes and gleaming new waterfront parks have taken the place of decaying industrial brownfields and vacant warehouses. Manufacturing giants like the Otis Elevator Co. loomed large here for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Alexander Street corridor, which runs parallel with the river downtown, has been the buzziest area of late. Here, on 22 acres of prime waterfront real estate, Manhattan-based Extell Development has a seven-building, mixed-use project, Point Street Landing, which will include 1,395 residences, 48,280 square feet of commercial space and more than 1,600 parking spaces.

The project will be at the former site of British International Cable Corp. at 1 Point Street and stretch to the Excelsior Packaging plant at 159 Alexander Street. With construction expected to begin in the spring, the project will be built in phases with completions beginning in 2022 and running into 2028.

AvalonBay is another big player in the Alexander Street corridor. At 79 Alexander Street, the company has 609 new rental apartments in three buildings on the waterfront.

At its Sawyer Place project, a block from the Yonkers train station, RXR has three mixed-use buildings with 438 luxury rentals and 32,871 square feet of retail space. Amenities include a landscaped rooftop terrace with an outdoor movie theater.

About 40 percent of the residential is leased up, and retail is 57 percent leased, according to the firm. It aims to complete the project by the second quarter of this year.

Rose Associates, too, has a presence on Alexander Street. Its $177.3 million development at 57 Alexander Street, just north of the Yonkers train station, will bring 440 residential units, 443 parking spaces and a new 25,000-square-foot waterfront park. City approvals are in place, Ellman said, but they have not broken ground yet.

Of Chicken and casinos

New York City-based AMS is developing a phased mixed-use project on a six-acre parking lot on Chicken Island, the site of a former slaughterhouse located downtown but farther east and away from the waterfront. In 2018, the firm paid $16 million for the site.

“We’re coming before the city now with an application,” Mitnick of AMS said, adding that he did not want to release more details until they were in the city’s hands.

“It will be predominantly residential in several towers with retail at the base of each building,” he said. One of the towers will have a hotel.

Elsewhere in this city of about 200,000 residents, stay tuned for a possibly huge project in southeast Yonkers at the 97-acre site of Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway. Last year, MGM Resorts International closed on a deal to acquire Empire City, its 5,200 slot machines and electronic games and the raceway for $850 million from the Rooney family, which had owned the track and casino since 1972.

MGM is seeking a full-scale gaming license from Albany to expand its operations at Empire City, including sports gambling, before a moratorium is lifted in 2023 on new casinos in New York. And the expansion has the support of Mayor Mike Spano and the Yonkers City Council.

“Everything that happens at MGM depends on what happens with the state’s regulation of casinos,” Ellman said, and they would need zoning changes “to do a fully blown hotel-entertainment-casino facility.”

“There is obviously an awful lot of property there,” he said. “They have a lot of room to work with — it’s a very plastic site.”

Klein said that there is a “lot of anticipation” within the real estate community about what could go there, “but until you see a hotel get built, it’s hard to know.”


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