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Intelligent Growth and Regional Planning for Putnam County, New York

 

After a long process, progress


MICHAEL RISINIT
THE JOURNAL NEWS
Original publication: Jan. 25, 2001

There are more than 40,000 shopping centers in the United States, according to one estimate. By the end of this year, one more - perched near Exit 18 of Interstate 84 in Southeast - will greet shoppers.

Construction approvals for Brewster Highlands took more than four years - the hardest part, one of the project's partners said - and work on the site began last summer.

The center will bring the first big-box stores to Putnam County and add to its almost empty landscape of national retailers. It is also one of the county's first major retail projects since Putnam Plaza opened on Route 6 in Carmel in 1972.

Like any new shopping center, in between the approval process and the beginning of construction is another step - attracting retailers to open shop.

The Home Depot is expected to open by the fall, said Larry Nadel of Emgee Highlands Inc., the project's owner. Nadel's partner is Harold Lepler. The two have built several projects in the county, including Clocktower Commons, a business-commercial mix on Route 22, and Putnam Ridge Rehabilitative and Nursing Center on Doansburg Road.

Brewster Highlands, a $36 million project, could have room for up to a half-dozen more retailers. No others have been formally announced, but Kohl's and Linens 'n Things are two names being mentioned for the 380,000-square-foot retail center.

Wooing starts as soon as approvals are granted. Shopping center owners and retailers find each other through trade shows, cold calling and the use of matchmaking firms that bring centers and retailers together.

Emgee is working with Hendon Properties. Hendon specializes in "power centers" - shopping centers dominated by several large anchor stores. Those stores include "category killers," such as Home Depot, that offer a large selection in a particular category at low prices.

Driving around the 61-acre site one day last week, amid the dump trucks, bulldozers and piles of earth and stone, Nadel explained the process.

Site work began last summer, and the hilltop is now a barren expanse, visible for at least a mile in both directions on the interstate. Nadel said once landscaping is done, the center will still be visible but not ugly.

Hendon, Nadel said, has a relationship with Home Depot and other potential tenants. The Atlanta-based company would call possible retailers and ask if they were interested.

"They know the players," Nadel said. "It's a pretty close-knit community."

While land for a new center may start as vacant property, developers don't begin a project without some thoughts on the outcome.

"They have an idea of what they want to see in that space," said Patrice Selleck, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "Any developer is going to make sure any space they develop is going to make money."

The Manhattan-based ICSC is a trade association representing more than 38,000 shopping center owners, retailers, developers and others in more than 70 countries, including the United States and Canada. The group estimates that there are 44,367 shopping centers in the United States.

"They'll just go to the retailers and say, 'Here's a center I have, and I'd like you to come in,' " said Selleck, describing how developers gauge interest.

The retailers also drive a center's appearance. Selleck said they keep the same look from site to site, such as Home Depot's orange signs, for brand recognition.

Emgee bought its property, which fronts Independent Way, in 1987. After considering office space, the company decided on retail in 1995 and proposed the shopping center about a year later. Final approvals were granted in 1999.

"Ninety percent of our job is finished when we get our approvals," Nadel said. "Construction is relatively easy."

Recruiting tenants, said Joseph V. Apicella, vice president of development for Capelli Enterprises, should also be relatively easy.

"The lease-up of a center like that is not very difficult," Apicella said. "(Discount retailers) are very aggressive in this market right now."

Capelli Enterprises is a partner in the New Roc City entertainment complex in New Rochelle. The company also wants to build 225 residential units, 16,000 square feet of retail space and a 100-space commuter parking lot along the Hudson River in Ossining.

An area's target market, its demographics and residents' disposable income are considerations for retailers and shopping center owners, Apicella said.

"We would focus on goods and services that would compliment our anchor with uses that would make sense and represent the diversity of the market," he added.

Other retail proposals in Putnam have run into opposition from neighborhood and environmental groups. Those factors helped kill the Lake Carmel Factory Shoppes in 1999, a proposed outlet center in Kent.

While there seemed to be little community opposition to Brewster Highlands when it was proposed - its site is on busy Route 312 near the entrance to the Brewster North train station - some question the need for big box stores in Putnam.

"We should concentrate on development within our communities instead of a monstrosity out on the interstate," said Kent resident Jeff Green, who runs a Web site that focuses on local development.

In addition to community protests, developers sometimes find New York City's watershed regulations challenging to negotiate. Most of Putnam County is in the city's watershed, including 99 percent of Southeast.

"That project (Brewster Highlands) was on the drawing board a long time," said Ross Weale, president of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation. "It was a difficult process, and it was elongated. They spent a lot more than they would have in order to meet the requirements."

With sewage treatment plants that discharge into lakes and streams prohibited in the watershed, Brewster Highlands received one of the three new plants allowed under a city pilot program. The pilot plants meet stringent removal requirements for phosphorous, which can give water a bad taste and smell.

Nadel said Emgee didn't have any other future retail projects planned just yet and would concentrate on finishing Brewster Highlands. While it took almost 13 years to begin work on the property, Nadel said last week he never doubted it would happen.

"Developers are notoriously optimistic," he said. "When somebody puts a wall in front of you, you find a way around."

 
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January 25, 2001 © planputnam.org