When construction began in March 2016 on the mixed-used Atlantic Station development in Stamford, the first part of the two-phase project was scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2018. However, work on the downtown project is wrapping up well ahead of schedule.
“We plan to start leasing in June,” said Philip Wharton, executive vice president for residential development at RXR Realty, the New York-based primary investor in the project, referring to the 325 rental apartments in the 26-story tower of the project’s first phase. Apartments are expected to open for occupancy in September. “Retail tenants could be building out space in July,” Wharton said.
It’s not every day when a major construction project gets completed three quarters early. “This was an easy site to work on,” Wharton said. “We’ve all done this before,” he added with a laugh.
But it wasn’t always that easy. The project is being built behind the site of the city’s historic downtown post office, which opened in 1916 and was shut down in 2013. The $4.3 million sale of the property by the U.S. Postal Service to the Cappelli Organization, a White Plains-based real estate developer, was challenged by the Center for Art and Mindfulness, a Greenwich group that sought to purchase the property and make it an art gallery. The group claimed that the Postal Service turned down its $5 million bid, but its legal challenge was dismissed; it later relocated to Hartland, Vermont.
In the RXR redevelopment, the oldest part of the post office, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, will be restored and converted into a food hall similar to the Urbanspace markets in New York City.
When fully completed, the $140 million Atlantic Station will consist of two 25-story and 29-story glass-sheathed towers with a total of 650 rental apartments complemented by 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurants, plus an indoor parking garage that will accommodate more than 800 cars.
RXR Realty was brought into the project by the Cappelli Organization, which Wharton described as the operating partner. (A spokesperson for the Cappelli company referred the Business Journal’s questions about the project to RXR Realty.) It was RXR’s first Connecticut development after focusing on commercial office properties, and particularly mixed-use downtown redevelopment projects in recent years, in Brooklyn, Long Island and Westchester County communities that include Yonkers and New Rochelle.
“Starting with the location, this checked all of the boxes for us,” Wharton said. “It is a transit-oriented site that is as close to the Stamford railroad station as it can be, as well as being close to I-95. It is also between the station and downtown. And it will have great views of the Long Island Sound and the Manhattan skyline.”
Wharton said Stamford is far removed from the stereotype of sleepy suburban cities. “Stamford has really gone through a transition, with a nightlife and a young population,” he said. “Sixty-five percent of the population is between 18 and 34, which is a classic renter age, and 90 percent have a college degree or more. Also, there is a big daytime population with offices holding 6,700 employees. This is not a bedroom community, by any means.”
Wharton noted that Atlantic Station was always planned as a rental development and not as a condominium. “We think rentals are more in demand,” he said. “The young population don’t like to make long-term commitments. And empty nesters may be looking for flexibility and convenience. And it is easier to move in versus negotiating for a mortgage.”
For the first phase of the development, rents are priced at $1,800 per month for the tower’s 20 studio apartments, $2,500 a month for its 175 one-bedroom apartments and $3,500 a month for the 150 two-bedroom units. Tenant amenities include 24-hour concierge service, indoor parking, a fitness center, a heated indoor pool, a lounge with a chef’s kitchen, a game room and an outdoor movie theater.
Absent from the residential project are municipally mandated below-market-rate rental units for lower-income households. Stamford gives developers the choice of either setting aside 10 percent of units for each size of apartment — studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom — at below-market rate rents or making a payment to a city fund for affordable housing projects. RXR Realty chose the latter option. Wharton declined to give an exact payment figure, but said it was “substantial.”
Stamford Mayor David Martin welcomed the completion of the first phase of the development. “The Atlantic Station project is one of the many projects that are contributing to the continued vitality of the downtown,” he said. “A vibrant downtown has a good blend of residents, restaurants and shops. The opening of new housing projects like Atlantic Station adds to this dynamic and offers more housing opportunities for people who want to call Stamford home.”
Jack Condlin, president and CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, called Atlantic Station “a great project and a very exciting use of the property between the core of the downtown, the Harbor Point and the train station,” he said.
While no date has been set for the completion of the project’s second phase, RXR Realty is already scouting additional Connecticut locations for similar mixed-use projects. “We are looking at transit hubs,” Wharton said. “We are interested in transit-oriented development and a proximity to downtowns that can give us an urban and suburban mix.”