When Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont drives down the Platinum Mile, he sees once thriving office parks that now contain mass vacancies with some buildings shuttered entirely.
As part of the town’s comprehensive master plan, Belmont is looking to change all that, while also revitalizing other parts of Harrison, including the downtown. The town last updated its comprehensive plan in 1988, though a comprehensive plan was in draft form in 2008.
A comprehensive plan is a long-range set of objectives and goals for the town, setting the stage for potential zoning changes and helping to dictate capital budgets. Towns generally update comprehensive plans about every 10 years.
The plan is being developed by Manhattan-based firm Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart Inc. (BFJ). Belmont took office in January 2012 and made a new comprehensive plan a top priority. The town recently held a public hearing in January and the town board is working on responding to the comments. The town board hopes to ratify the comprehensive plan in the spring.
“We have this beautiful community,” Belmont said. “I want to give it direction, a plan for the future.”
In 1984, the Platinum Mile, the corridor of office parks on Interstate 287 in Harrison and White Plains, accounted for more than 60 percent of Harrison’s tax revenue. Today it accounts for just 18 percent. Last May, BFJ estimated that 19 percent of the Platinum Mile is vacant.
“Everything has to be refurbished,” Belmont said. “We have to get new ideas going.”
The town is looking at rezoning the Platinum Mile to allow for more adaptive reuse, the buzzword for revitalizing vacant office parks.
The draft comprehensive master plan, which was published in September, calls for creating a mixed-use zone to allow for potential development of assisted-care and senior housing, as well as retail uses and improved vehicular and pedestrian connections. Currently, the area is not zoned for residential, retail or restaurant use.
According to Westchester real estate brokers, AvalonBay Communities Inc. has expressed interest in building a residential development at the site of vacant 103 Corporate Park Drive and underused 105 Corporate Park Drive. One top broker said that AvalonBay is waiting for the town to complete its comprehensive plan to see whether it puts in place senior age-restricted housing, which would block AvalonBay’s plans.
AvalonBay officials declined to comment. Belmont said the town has had no talks with the developer.
Frank Fish, a principal at BFJ Planning, said there has been interest from developers in building residential projects on the Platinum Mile.
The town is also looking to allow commercial campuses to have accessory uses, including health clubs, day care centers and food-related uses, and reducing parking requirements. To prevent big box stores, retail development on the Platinum Mile would be capped at 15,000 square feet of space.
Some revitalization has already begun. At 1 Gannett Drive, the former newspaper plant of Gannett Co. Inc.’s The Journal News was razed to make way for a 209,000-square-foot, two-story Life Time Fitness center.
According to CBRE researchers, more than 1 million square feet of office space has been repurposed or repositioned in Westchester since 2008. Belmont said that transforming vacant office space will not happen overnight, but the process has to begin.
“It may finish long after I’m gone,” he said. “Renaissances take a long time. If we do something today, we may not feel the effect for 10 years. But we can’t stop and do nothing. There’s buildings boarded up and mothballed.”
To help revive the Westchester Avenue corridor, Harrison has hosted several workshops and luncheons with many of Westchester’s developers and Realtors, including building owners along the Platinum Mile. White Plains has had similar initiatives, hosting bus tours of the city. White Plains is also working on its comprehensive plan.
“In the 1960s, the trend was to have these suburban-style office complexes, in isolation,” Fish said. “The marketplace has clearly changed.”
Since the recession, 65 percent of Harrison’s tax revenue is from residential properties, a turnaround from pre-recession levels. Belmont believes that updating the comprehensive plan will send the message that Harrison is open for business.
“The town is moving in the right direction with the Platinum Mile,” Fish said. “We’re pretty pleased with how it’s going.”
The town is also looking at developing property at the Harrison Metro-North Railroad station. In 2009, the town and the MTA entered into an agreement to turn commuter parking lots into a mixed-use development with residential and retail use. The town is still in discussions with Metro-North about the development and it is supported by the comprehensive plan.
“We can’t just continue to sit back and hope and wish for more development,” Belmont said. “No one has the magic wand. We have to go out there and get it done.”