Ask Wilson Kimball, Yonkers planning and development commissioner, about the ongoing revitalization of the city’s downtown and she immediately becomes animated.
“It’s going great,” she said. “It’s going gangbusters.”
Kimball said Yonkers has between 2,000 to 2,500 residential units and supportive retail downtown and could add another 2,000 units to the waterfront along Alexander Street by the end of the year.
Developers have also been invited to send proposals for the redevelopment of Chicken Island, an underused municipal parking lot near Getty Square. The city aims to redevelop the roughly 6-acre downtown property, according to its recently issued request for proposals, as an “impactful, mixed-use site that contains a government center and a combination of uses.”
“It could be a mini-development,” said Kimball.
Other projects in the development pipeline include creating a park near the Ludlow train station, transforming South Broadway into a culinary and dining destination and possibly relocating the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus depot from its valuable lot in the city’s Alexander Street redevelopment area.
One man who shared Kimball’s high hopes for a vibrant city center was Nicholas “Nick” Sprayregen, a major downtown landlord in Yonkers and president of his family’s Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage business in New York City, who died of cancer on July 13. As managing member of Rising Development Yonkers L.L.C, Sprayregen – a devoted Bruce Springsteen fan who named his development enterprise and Rising Media Group LLC, his chain of weekly community newspapers in Westchester County, after Springsteen’s 2002 album “The Rising” — paid roughly $30 million to acquire an assemblage of commercial and residential properties that encompass more than 3 acres in the heart of the city’s downtown redevelopment area.
“I think Nick was a very special person,” Kimball said. “He was the kind of person that you could sit down with and have a very good conversation with, but then when he would switch from Nick Sprayregen the man to the developer, he could be quite a tough negotiator. But you always respected him, because you knew he was a good person.”
Kimball said that the city is “finding that there’s a smooth transition” following Sprayregen’s death. She said that Tim Rutledge, who worked beside Sprayregen as director of Rising Development, has stepped in to lead the company. “We’ve had a really open dialog and a good rapport,” Kimball said.
While Rutledge’s presence has provided “some continuity” during the transition, Kimball said, “It’s still a huge adjustment” without Sprayregen.
Rising Development’s projects continue to move forward. Earlier this summer, extensive demolition work began at the planned site of Larkin Plaza, a $197 million project that is a joint venture of Sprayregen’s company and RXR Realty LLC. The razed buildings, on the south side of the city’s 4-year-old Van der Donck Park and Saw Mill River walkway that have transformed the downtown plaza, included 25 Warburton Ave., the former home of Sprayregen’s Rising Media Group.
Led by RXR Realty, the Long Island-based real estate company and long-time commercial office landlord in Westchester, the Larkin Plaza development will include a 25-story building with 272 residential units, a 17-story building with 170 units, ground-level retail spaces and restaurants and parking capacity for 539 vehicles.
“We have all of our approvals in hand, and we’ve been doing demolition work on the site for the last couple months,” said Seth Pinsky, executive vice president at RXR. RXR is “pretty close to the end” of the demolition phase and the company hopes to begin construction by the end of this third quarter, he said.
“We just remain very enthusiastic about Yonkers, about the project, and we’re anxious to start going vertical,” Pinsky said.
One block from Larkin Plaza, Rising Development recently was granted the go-ahead by city officials to begin the demolition of 36 Main St. One wall of the brick building serves as the canvas for one section of a three-part, 14,000-square-foot mural painted by Richard Haas, a Yonkers resident and internationally acclaimed trompe l’oeil muralist. Commissioned by the city in 1997, the mural depicts figures and scenes spanning the history of Yonkers, from its Native American inhabitants to its 19th-century industrial renaissance.
Although the murals were designated landmarks by the city in February, engineering reports found the building at 36 Main St. is structurally unsafe and must be brought down.
“The right of private property, which I strongly advocate for, can create some real disgusting outcomes sometimes,” said Haas.
About two weeks before Sprayregen’s death this summer, Rising Development filed for a demolition permit for 36 Main St. and the adjacent 38 Main St. Christina Gilmartin, Yonkers director of communications, said Rising Development is working with ConEd and other parties to turn off the site’s utilities to prepare it for demolition once the permit is issued.
Both Haas and the city faulted Rising Development for the building’s unsalvageable condition. Haas and other residents who have fought to preserve the murals in the past accused Sprayregen of “demolition by neglect.”
“Due to lack of maintenance by the owner over the years, the city is forced to accept that the buildings are unsafe and that the demolition must proceed,” Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said in a statement, “but we are developing a plan to keep the legacy of these murals alive.”
Spano said the city is taking steps to reproduce the mural at a new site in Yonkers and that the city would not allow the essence of the historic murals to be lost. The city recently commissioned a high-resolution photograph of the mural so it could be precisely reproduced at a new location, he said. The mural might be reproduced on a wall that would be erected on city-owned land adjacent to 38 Main St. or on other buildings in the area.
“It’s a sad situation really,” said Terry Joshi, one of three residents who applied for the Haas mural’s landmark designation. “Taking out one panel of a three-piece painting is obviously the end piece of an artwork.”
While Joshi said “it would be wonderful” if the city were able to recreate the mural, she questioned whether the project will come to pass. “It’s a financing question. Are they going to put money into figuring out some kind of resolution?”
For Haas, the endangered panel of his triptych must be recreated in its existing location for the artwork to be preserved. “Anything else that would reproduce that part of the mural wouldn’t make sense to me,” he said.
“I think the mayor indicated that he was very receptive to what I feel about it and want to do with it,” Haas said. “When and how it happens, I don’t know.”
Gilmartin, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said the mural could be recreated on a newly constructed building at 36 Main if Rising Development were interested.
About one block from the landmarked murals, Sprayregen’s development legacy in Yonkers and working partnership with the city can be seen at Mill Street Courtyard, where a one-block, dead-end lane behind Main Street and Warburton Avenue has been redeveloped as a public courtyard and tourist walkway. The city’s $8.3 million project transformed the commercial cul- de-sac into a 20,000-square-foot plaza beside a newly uncovered, 100-foot stretch of the tumbling Saw Mill River spanned by a pedestrian bridge.
Sprayregen several years ago acquired five properties surrounding the Mill Street cul-de-sac and announced plans for a $22 million mixed-use rehabilitation project that is underway this summer. Its centerpiece is 2 Mill St., a former warehouse being converted into 40 live-work lofts for artists and entrepreneurs and retail space.
“We think like the Library Lofts (on Main Street), those are going to be snapped up right away,” Kimball said. “They will go like hotcakes.”