Seven years, one Great Recession and $30 million later, the master development team that was to rebuild and revitalize downtown Yonkers is down to its last partner.
A mayoral administration that was not in office when the city formed its public-private partnership with master developer Struever Fidelco Cappelli L.L.C. and four years ago hammered out a detailed agreement on how and when SFC’s phased projects would unfold negotiates with the developer on downtown plans while claiming time has expired on SFC’s deal with the city to build Palisades Point, a luxury residential complex on the Hudson riverfront.
Yet the first and last man standing at SFC said all projects the partners committed to will be built, though modified in light of a post-recession economy and as requested by Mayor Mike Spano’s administration.
“I was the first person in,” said Marc E. Berson, founding chairman of the Fidelco Realty Group in Millburn, N.J., who in January filed documents in Albany for a reorganized and renamed SFC Yonkers L.L.C. “This has been a long trail.”
Berson and his Fidelco real estate company ventured into Yonkers in 2005, and one year later were joined by Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Valhalla-based Cappelli Enterprises Inc. in the partnership selected by the administration of then-Mayor Philip Amicone as its downtown and waterfront master developer. The Struever company, a debt-burdened victim of the recession and frozen credit markets, dropped out of the Yonkers venture in 2009 and developer Louis R. Cappelli and his Valhalla company took over Struever’s equity interest in the project.
But Cappelli too has financially struggled with heavy debt and vacant development units, numerous contractors’ liens and dueling lawsuits with former partners in projects that included The Ritz-Carlton Renaissance Square project and City Center in White Plains, New Roc City in New Rochelle and his halted Concord Resort redevelopment in the Catskills. Along with his financial losses, Cappelli in 2009 suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm that, he has since said in interviews, changed his outlook on life and work.
On Dec. 14, he and Joseph Apicella, executive vice president at Cappelli Enterprises Inc. and SFC’s executive project manager and chief spokesman in Yonkers, resigned from SFC.
Cappelli did not return a call for comment.
“Louis, with all of his different issues, he stayed with us,” said Berson, “has been a tremendous partner in so many ways. He’s one of the really interesting persons in the area. With his medical issues and the problems he’s facing in other areas, he’s decided to refocus his attention” away from Yonkers.
Berson said SFC has invested about $30 million in its Yonkers projects, the total cost of which initially was estimated at about $1.6 billion. “It’s a huge investment – a serious investment, let’s put it that way,” he said of the costs to date.
At the mayor’s office, spokeswoman Christina Gilmartin said the city notified SFC that the land disposition agreement for Palisades Point – referred to as parcels H & I – expired Jan. 26. “That’s in particular to H and I,” she said. “The city is continuing to meet with SFC” and receiving proposals from the developer for revised projects at downtown River Park Center, Cacace Center and Government Center. “We’re still working very closely with them on those projects.”
Peter Klein, vice president at Fidelco Realty Group and project manager for SFC Yonkers, recently said SFC plans to begin construction this year of its 436-unit Palisades Point residential development south of City Pier. Berson did not directly address the city’s recent notice of expiration for the waterfront project on land currently leased by SFC. He noted, though, that “hard word-for-word documents” in “bubbly times” and changed market conditions might not represent “the current status of what is doable and what can be done.”
Berson said SFC has “not a real good but a tremendous working relationship with this administration. We all have one common goal: how do we get to the finish line, how fast can we get to the finish line” and what modifications to the approved project are acceptable to the city.
“There is no doubt we will get the H&I project through, the River Park Center project through” and the other downtown projects in the land disposition agreement, Berson said.