The former master developer who a decade ago floated an ambitious plan to redevelop downtown Yonkers and its waterfront plans to foot the bill for an estimated $5 million to $7 million cleanup of a six-acre lot at the heart of the city’s revitalization efforts.
More than three years after the city approved a with developer SFC Yonkers LLC, the reformed and reorganized firm will fund the environmental remediation of the brownfield site historically known in Yonkers as Chicken Island.
“As far as the city is concerned, our benefit here is to obtain a certificate of completion once the site has been remediated,” said Michael V. Curti, corporation counsel for the city of Yonkers. The lawyer said the remediation of the property will likely make the site more attractive to potential developers, which would “obviously be for the better.”
As part of the termination agreement, retained its interest in the brownfield cleanup tax credits related to Chicken Island. Those credits fell under a state program set to expire at the end of this year.
Curti said the former brownfield tax credit program was more “lucrative” for developers than the current program, where the state’s reimbursements are far lower and the thresholds for meeting the requirements for the credits are higher.
In order to take advantage of the older program and preserve the brownfield credits, SFC must complete the cleanup of the site by the end of the year. “So they have an interest in preserving those rights,” Curti said.
At its April 11 meeting, the Yonkers City Council approved an agreement with SFC allowing the firm to enter the site and perform its cleanup. The agreement still needs approval from the Yonkers Community Development Agency.
“We have no liability by having them come on and perform the remediation,” Curti said, though he added that SFC is taking on “a good amount of risk” by agreeing to fund the cleanup.
As part of the agreement, SFC would split the brownfield tax credits evenly with the future developer of Chicken Island.
“I think what will end up happening is once they clean it up, to the extent that there’s a successive developer to that site within the next 10 years, then the developer would have to work with SFC to apply for the (brownfield credit) program,” he said. “Then they would get the benefit of the reimbursement and SFC would end up with 50 percent of that reimbursement.’
For SFC, “Their costs will be recouped once a future developer is selected and the future developer does a project on the site,” Curti said.
SFC’s remediation plan has been approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, so “They can start probably fairly soon,” Curti said.
According to Geoffrey Thompson, a spokesperson for SFC, Louis R. Cappelli, of Cappelli Organization in White Plains, and Marc E. Berson, founding chairman of New Jersey-based Fidelco Realty Group, remain partners in the firm and the remediation project.
“SFC continues as a viable entity and is doing the cleanup under a contract with the city of Yonkers,” SFC said in a statement. “A sharing agreement will be entered with the city and the future developer based on SFC doing the cleanup at its cost.”
Formerly Struever Fidelco Cappelli LLC, the partnership between Fidelco, Cappelli and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, a Baltimore developer known for its transformation of that city’s Inner Harbor, was chosen by Yonkers officials as the city’s downtown master developer in 2005. SFC’s plans for multibillion-dollar redevelopment, which encountered strong community opposition, had Chicken Island, off Getty Square, as their centerpiece. The company proposed a 750,000-square-foot mixed-use development, including retail stores, entertainment and high-rise residential towers. The initially included a minor league ballpark and up to 800 units of residential housing, along with movie theaters and a hotel on and near the parking-lot tracts that comprise Chicken Island.
Like many developers across the county, SFC’s plans were stalled by the credit market crisis that shortly preceded the Great Recession. In 2009, Struever Bros. of the partnership and Cappelli took over Struever’s equity interest. Cappelli, who also incurred heavy financial and property losses as a result of the financial crisis, formally from SFC in late 2012.
The Yonkers City Council to end the city’s land disposition agreement with SFC in December 2013. Since that time, the city has issued multiple — in 2014 and again last fall — from firms interested in redeveloping Chicken Island.
In its , the city hoped to transform the underutilized site into a new government center and firehouse. The firehouse would replace the 89-year-old Fire House 1, across from Chicken Island on New School Street, that was condemned in 2015. The plans would also likely include tearing down another city-owned building adjacent to City Hall at 87 Nepperhan Ave. — the former Yonkers Health Center, which houses the city Parking Violations Bureau, planning and development offices and other city departments — and the Government Center parking garage.
Chicken Island takes its name from a former island on the site in the Saw Mill River occupied by a chicken farm in the 19th century. Wilson Kimball, Yonkers planning and development commissioner, said the area has been underdeveloped for more than 40 years.
According to Kimball, several firms responded to the most recent RFP issued in August 2016.
“They (each) had a successful track record of working with this administration in Yonkers and are already good partners and neighbors,” she said. “In all cases, their responses involved a phased approach, although the responses varied widely between residential and commercial uses.”
Kimball said that after reviewing the proposals and conferring with the Yonkers Parking Authority about their needs, the administration realized Chicken Island was being used “as a swing space for public parking, movie shoot parking, construction vehicle parking and public uses.”
Kimball said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano “then realized that with 5,000 on the horizon, we may need it for swing space for some time. At the same time as that became clear, we also noted that the generous brownfield credits program that Chicken Island was in was expiring at the end of this calendar year. Consequently, the site is being remediated at no cost to the city by the original remediation team.”
Kimball added that once the cleanup has been completed and the Department of Environmental Conservation has signed off on the remediation, the city will likely reissue an RFP for Chicken Island. “I expect that will be in mid-2018,” she said.