A Harlem-based developer has a vision that would turn an empty lot at the southern gateway to White Plains into a $160 million mixed-use retail and boutique fitness center that would also include 12 townhome units.
The project, known as Boulevard, was first proposed to the White Plains Common Council in November by Post Maple 77 LLC, a related company of Grid Properties LLC.
The plans calls for Grid Properties to build a 230,000-square-foot pedestrian-oriented development at the former Sholz Auto Group site at 77 W. Post Road, between South Lexington and Odell avenues.
Drew Greenwald, principal at Grid and a Scarsdale resident, said he drove by the former Sholz site, which officially closed its doors in 2009, for several years and wondered why no one had done anything with it.
“It was a little oasis-like,” Greenwald told the Business Journal. “It’s not a big commercial area and yet it’s not in the middle of residential either; it is an in-between. It’s a nice place to imagine walking around, having shops, being able to work out, have a bite. It always felt to me like one of those nice places stuck without the right identity.”
Now he is leading the effort to bring the property that identity. Grid’s proposal would add 220,000 square feet of leasable retail, fitness and restaurant use, plus 12 one-bedroom townhomes and a 720-space parking garage.
Grid’s portfolio includes Harlem USA, a 285,000-square-foot, six-level entertainment complex at 125th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Manhattan that opened in 2000. It also built DC USA, the largest retail development in the District of Columbia, an 890,000-square-foot urban shopping center.
If approved, Boulevard would be Grid’s first foray into Westchester and its fifth development overall.
Greenwald described Boulevard as a “boutique fitness experience.” The goal, as he described it, would be to take small fitness operations — such as Pilates, yoga and spinning — that are usually spread out over strip malls and shopping centers and place them in one central location.
“This way, instead of having to get in your car and go to one place one day and another place the next, you’ll have a bunch together,” Greenwald said. “And they can help each other. If someone sees the cycling guy one day but they happen to be going to a barre class, they might go try the cycling next week.”
Having a multitude of fitness options in one place could create a unique energy and spill over to retailers as well, Greenwald said. About 38,000 square feet of leasable space would be dedicated to fitness, the other 182,000 to retail.
The developer pictures a mix of medium to small retailers. In May, Greenwald was asked by the city’s Planning Board whether the city could support a retail development this large. The Grid principal said the project could create a “critical mass” of space large enough to draw distinct retailers and shoppers.
“There are a lot of very good retailers that don’t want to be in malls,” he said. “They want to be in the kind of demographic that is represented by southern Westchester. Those tenants don’t want to be with one other tenant, they want to be with 20 other tenants. So you have to have a certain scale.”
Another part of that draw, Greenwald told the board, would be its unique architecture, designed by Philadelphia-based BLT Architects.
“We went into this saying, people have done some really interesting architecture in Westchester, take the General Foods headquarters (800 Westchester Ave., now owned by RPW Group) that’s 30 years old now,” Greenwald said. “But people haven’t really done retail in an interesting way. It’s not ahead of the curve. But for the stuff we’ve done, we always try to be ahead of the curve.”
The design would feature glass storefronts with brick paneling, adjustable to each potential tenants’ needs, Greenwald said.
And shoppers could likely expect to tally a few steps onto their Fitbits during a day of shopping at Boulevard. The development would have just the single parking garage rather than storefront parking. Greenwald stressed that the design for development would force people to walk.
“From a retailer’s perspective, people who are on their feet spend more time there,” he said. “From a resident’s perspective, it’s nicer to see people walking around than cars driving around.”
The residential portion of the project was largely created to keep the side of the development on Maple Avenue in harmony with the residential feel of the street, which the new townhouses would face, Greenwald said. He said the residential component also helps hide the three-level parking garage from street view.
The townhomes are all one-bedroom units and would be available for rent at market rate under the current proposal.
Bill Brady, the president of the Highlands Civic Association, a neighborhood group near the proposed site, said his group has met with representatives from Grid to discuss concerns of the potential development.
He said he’d like to see further examination of potential traffic and lighting impacts, the impact of construction on the area and how increased traffic could affect pedestrian and school bus stop crossings on Rathbun and Maple avenues.
“Overall, we like the project and think it will be a good addition and an improvement right next to our neighborhood,” Brady said. “But we need to make sure the developer and the city pay attention to these issues and fine-tune the project for its impact on ours and surrounding neighborhoods.”
Brady added his group will be tracking the project as its review by the city continues and could continue to add comments and suggestions.
The White Plains Common Council is still considering Grid’s site plan. In February, the council approved a zoning change for three of the lots on the potential Boulevard property and approved the closing of Brady Place, an unused street that runs through the site.
The city recently received engineering studies needed from the developer and will likely consider the project for approval at its Oct. 3 Common Council meeting, according to Karen Pasquale, a senior adviser to Mayor Thomas Roach.
If approved, Greenwald said the project could create 500 construction jobs and hundreds more permanent jobs once opened.