With the building’s distinctive cupola and four Pegasus statues hovering above him Thursday morning, William Balter celebrated the start of the next life for the former headquarters where DeWitt and Lila Wallace built the Reader’s Digest brand.
Balter’s development company, Wilder Balter Partners Inc., was joined by local, county and state officials June 7 to cut the ribbon on the Chappaqua Crossing Apartments, a 64-unit redevelopment of the building that served as the Reader’s Digest headquarters for more than seven decades.
“This was an early, beautiful example of the American corporate campus,” he said, adding that the “iconic” cupola building is “known by pretty much anyone from anywhere in this area.”
Balter spoke over the buzzing and occasional screeches from construction of the Whole Foods and Life Time Fitness retail complex that will open just a short walk from the Chappaqua Crossing Apartments’ front entrance. Balter said the project offered the company a “unique opportunity.”
The Georgian-style brick building was built in 1939 and hosted Reader’s Digest employees up until 2009, when the company moved its last Chappaqua employees to Manhattan.
Wilder Balter started on the $21 million conversion in 2016. Designed by Philadelphia-based architects L & M Design LLC, the building features a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The four-story, 95,000-square-foot building also features two landscaped courtyards, two fitness rooms, a club room and a shuttle to the Metro-North train station in downtown Chappaqua.
The building offers affordable housing and mixed-income housing in a pricey area of northern Westchester. Of the apartments, 28 are offered at rents affordable to people making between 40 and 60 percent of area median income, while another 10 percent are workforce housing, offered at rents affordable to people making up to 90 percent of area median income.
The other 26 are priced at market rate, with monthly rents ranging from $2,300 for a one-bedroom to $4,800 for a three-bedroom.
Small touches of the building’s past remain even after the conversion. A 1,000-square-foot, octagon-shaped reference room once utilized by Reader’s Digest employees is now a reading room for residents. Its shelves are stocked with several Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, the hardcover anthology series that was an annual best-seller for the publisher.
But Balter’s remarks focused more on the building’s future, as a home for Chappaqua residents with a mix of incomes. He read from a list of new residents that included seniors, volunteer firemen, school district employees and lifelong friends.
“This is just a few of the examples of how the housing that we all worked to make happen is important to all of us and makes up the infrastructure of the people who work in our communities and make everything tick,” Balter said.
The apartments are the latest step in the redevelopment of the site by Summit/Greenfield Partners, a joint venture of two Fairfield County real estate companies that spent $59 million in 2004 to purchase the 116-acre campus. Once fully realized, the Chappaqua Crossing campus will host 500,000 square feet of office space, 120,000 square feet of retail, including the Whole Foods grocery and Life Time Fitness center, and 91 townhouses.
Approvals for the retail portion of the campus came after 11 years of community opposition and legal battles with the town of New Castle. Summit/Greenfield Principal Felix Charney described the process as a long, expensive and frustrating campaign when the retail portion finally did break ground in spring 2016.
The majority of the 120,000 square feet of structures that will host the “retail village” on the site are already in place. Life Time Fitness and Whole Foods will each occupy about 40,000 square feet. Both expect to be open by the end of the year, according to a project spokesperson.
The $50 million retail portion is a collaboration between Summit Development and Boston-based real estate firm The Grossman Cos. The retail leasing is handled by The Dartmouth Co., a commercial real estate agency with offices in the Northeast.
The townhomes, which would be for-purchase and sit on an undeveloped 30-acre plot on the campus, are still awaiting final approvals from the town for construction. Separately, Summit/Greenfield deeded a 400-seat auditorium formerly used for Reader’s Digest conferences to the town of New Castle. The town launched a community theater in the space called the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center last year.
The office space on site is leased by a number of companies and organizations, including CareMount Medical, Northern Westchester Hospital, a data services provider and now even Wilder Balter. William Balter noted the company believed enough in Summit/Greenfield’s vision that it moved its headquarters from Elmsford to office space on campus last fall.
“They did something that was incredibly painful to get done,” Balter said. “But as you sit here and look at what they’ve created, what will be created when they’re done, it’s really incredible. It is one of the prime addresses in the county.”