In the shadow of a new Yonkers, retailers wait and worry
On New Main Street off Getty Square in downtown Yonkers, business owner Kim Young is distressed and looking glum and haggard after sleepless nights. His Sun Fish Market will be forced to close when his five-year lease at 137 New Main St. expires at the end of this year, and Young fears he’ll be forced into bankruptcy and lose all that he’s earned from 20 years of hard work as a Korean immigrant to the U.S.
Young questions why an endangered small business like his does not receive financial assistance from the same state funding pot from which the city of Yonkers is paying downtown landlords for their properties. Young and neighboring retailers on New Main Street now pay rent to the city as their new landlord.
River Park Center, the mixed-use redevelopment project of the city’s downtown and waterfront master developer, Struever Fidelco Cappelli L.L.C. (SFC), for several years has cast a shadow over small businesses like Young’s in the vicinity of Chicken Island, the city parking lot and project site, even though no work has begun there in the four years since SFC’s site plans were approved.
The development team’s solvency has been questioned by some Yonkers officials and residents since Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. dropped out of SFC during the company’s financial collapse in 2009 and as the continued financial struggles of SFC’s former leading partner, Cappelli Enterprises Inc., have effectively sidelined developer Louis Cappelli and his Valhalla company since the recession. But SFC has regrouped this winter.
Led by New Jersey-based Fidelco Realty Group, the renamed SFC Yonkers L.L.C. is negotiating the details of a scaled-back commercial center at Chicken Island, said Peter Klein, vice president at Fidelco Realty Group and project manager for SFC Yonkers. He said principals of the reorganized SFC will be announced soon. The city and SFC could have an agreement on the revised first phase of the SFC project by the end of February, Klein said.
Young and other retail tenants on New Main Street unexpectedly felt the impact of the slumbering River Park Center project in December, when New Main Street Development Corp. (NMSDC), a development arm of the city that has been idle and unfunded since its creation in 2008, began acquiring New Main Street properties between Nepperhan Avenue and Ann Street.
For 10 years, “It was just a rumor,” Young said of the redevelopment plans, “and then all of a sudden they started.”
The city is using an $8 million state grant in 2012 from Empire State Development to acquire six properties that will be demolished to make way for the uncovering or “daylighting” of the Saw Mill River and construction of a riverwalk and public park there, said Wilson Kimball, deputy commissioner of the Yonkers planning and development department. The project at River Park Center, which would be the third phase of the city’s Saw Mill River daylighting at downtown sites, was previously estimated at $41 million.
Klein said SFC’s scaled-down commercial center at Chicken Island, estimated at $125 million to $150 million, will be built at the same time as the city’s daylighting project. Kimball said the city, not SFC, will be on the hook for daylighting construction costs unless Yonkers receives additional state or federal funds.
The city’s NMSDC in December paid approximately $2.7 million to two landlords for three property parcels on the New Main Street block. Kimball said if the owners of three remaining properties slated for demolition do not agree to a sale price by Jan. 31, the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency will be asked to begin eminent domain proceedings to condemn the properties on behalf of NMSDC.
Young and two other New Main Street business owners said city officials in December told them the city will not financially assist their relocation.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen,” said Hassan Abutin, who has three to four years remaining on his Main Street Department Store lease at 151 New Main St. City officials told the retailers none of their leases will be renewed and their businesses on New Main Street cannot be sold. “And when the lease is finished, get out of here,” said Abutin.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Areli Moran, co-owner with her brother of J & M Party Supplies on New Main Street. She said their 8-year-old business has fed off the success and customer traffic of her former employers and Mexican compatriots across New Main Street at La Pinata Bakery. “We don’t want to go too far from them,” she said.
“We just want something fair and keep doing business” in Yonkers, said Moran. City officials told the tenants “they’d try to help us find a place, but nothing moneywise.”
“They said the city doesn’t have any money,” said Young, who moved to Yonkers from Atlanta, Ga., four years ago when he bought the Sun Fish Market business. “Who has any money?”
Young pointed to stainless steel coolers, freezers and display cases and commercial kitchen equipment in his store. The fixtures are worth about $200,000, an investment Young said he’ll lose when his store closes if the city does not compensate him.
“I’ve been here 20 years in America,” he said. “I lose everything. I’m going bankrupt.”
Young said he recently tried to meet with Kimball at her city office to request a “couple months” of free rent to help him save money for his business move. He said his request was denied, though Kimball would not meet personally with him. “I’m in shock now. What can I do?” he said.
The $8 million grant used to fund the city’s New Main Street purchases “is state money,” Young noted. “That money only goes to the landlord.” He said the grant also should be used to assist store owners with relocation and fixture replacement costs.
“They think we are garbage.” Young said. “I’m the city people too. What is my small business for? We pay tax.”
Regarding the smaller River Park Center project being negotiated with the city, Klein said, “The scale will be transformational for the downtown.” Construction of new municipal offices and a municipal garage at Cacace Justice Center on Nepperhan Avenue, another element of the SFC redevelopment initially estimated at $1.6 billion, also is being discussed, he said.
For River Park Center, “The economic reality is we were unable to assemble properties needed” for the previously proposed mixed-use development, Klein said. He said the developer hoped to add commercial and residential development in a second phase, “growing the project closer to its original design.”
On the Hudson River waterfront, Klein said SFC plans to begin construction this year of Palisades Point, a 436-unit tower complex of rental apartments. Before the recession, SFC planned to build luxury condominiums there. He said SFC is finalizing a redesign that “enables us to get out of the ground this year.”
“We continue to be bullish on Yonkers in general,” Klein said.