Retail developers tackle downtown redevelopment and suburban mixed-use in the same sprawling city

For decades, the City of Yonkers has loomed as a tempting but daunting target for retail development. The fourth-largest city in New York State, it cuts a long swath from the Bronx border into some of the ritziest real estate in upscale Westchester County. But, in the past week, two developments—representing two vastly different development challenges—finally won the green light.

Redevelopment has long been the goal of Yonkers mayors, who have watched helplessly for decades as the once- thriving manufacturing and commercial center lost factories, jobs, stores and a viable economic base. Nineteenth-century tenements and 20th-century housing projects spread inland from the Hudson River shore, housing low-income residents. For most of those years, state and city officials have seen that waterfront, with its industrial-age landmarks and spectacular river views, as a prime location for redevelopment—if only the demographics of the immediate neighborhood were more promising. On the other end of the socio-economic spectrum—and presenting its own challenges to development—is suburban Yonkers. The city sprawls north and east from the Bronx border and culminates in leafy suburban neighborhoods, carved out of farms and estates from the early 20th century. There are mansions, golf courses and, amazingly, some undeveloped tracts of land. Here, the demographics are great, but the appetite for large-scale development is limited.

Now, both Yonkers(es) are getting big retail developments. Last week Mayor Philip Amicone, who has dreams of shoring up the city’s sagging finances and converting the old downtown into a SoHo of the suburbs, approved plans for a downtown redevelopment. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, with partners Fidelco Corp. and local developer Louis Cappelli, as the go-ahead to become master developers for an extensive portion of the downtown and the waterfront. The $3.1 billion project will be constructed in phases including a $1.2 billion, 6,500-seat ballpark for a new Atlantic League franchise. The first phase will include 750,000 square feet of retail, according to a spokesman for Amicone. As yet unnamed, the project will include residential housing and will involve unburying stretches of the Saw Mill River, which was routed underground decades ago.

On Thursday, Forest City is expected to get zoning approval for Ridge Hill, a sprawling mixed-use town center development on mostly undeveloped land in northern Yonkers, overlooking the New York Thruway. Officials of Forest City, which has been lobbying for zoning approval for two years, were not available for comment. But local news reports say that the company expects to break ground on the $600 million mini-city in two months. The project is expected to include 1.3 million square feet of retail, a 350-room hotel, 150,000 square feet of office space and 880 residential units. Ridge Hill was originally slated for completion this year, but Forest City faced strong community opposition.

The two projects still faces hurdles. Much of the downtown land still must be acquired from private parties. Co-developer Cappelli, a native son, has already acquired 50 percent of the land he needs. Forest City, too, must buy some property, and could resort to using the tactic of eminent domain, if necessary.

“You’re going to see the kind of development that five years ago, we could only dream of,” said Mayor Amicone at a City Hall news conference last week.

--Beth Karlin