Brooklyn's Ridge Hill commercial development project gets started

After years of divisiveness in the political and business quarters, smiles were all around on top of Ridge Hill last week as developer Bruce Ratner was joined by Yonkers officials in officially breaking ground for his huge mixed-use complex.

Ridge Hill, which is slated to open in late 2009, will be a major influence in the Yonkers and Westchester County economies. Numbers generated from recent tax figures show that Ridge Hill could produce $24 million a year in revenues for Yonkers, said Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Cos.

The company, which is building Atlantic Yards, an 8 million-square-foot residential and commercial development in Brooklyn, will also be making $35 million worth of improvements to Yonkers roads, the largest private infrastructure investment in city history.

As reported in the Business Journal earlier this year, the first tenants will include a 12-screen National Amusements Cinema, Whole Foods Market, L.L. Bean, Banana Republic and New York & CompanY. This will be L.L. Bean's first store in Westchester County, and only its second in New York state. Once finished, Ridge Hill plans to have 1.2 million square feet in retail development. Additional tenant announcements are expected in December.

The development also plans to include 155,000 square feet of office and retail facilities as well as 1,000 residential units; with 200 units to accommodate active adults over 55 years of age and 135 units of affordable housing. Also included in the construction plans are a hotel and conference center. Clearing of the 81.4-acre site off the New York state Thruway began in the spring.

Ridge Hill will have access to both the New York state Thruway and the Sprain Brook Parkway.

"For years, this site sat relatively undeveloped," Ratner said. "The BAE Systems building was only built about 30 years ago. The ground floor will be used for retail while the upper levels will be offices."

"It's fantastic, there's a whole new retail and housing calling," said Ellen Lynch, president and CEO of Yonkers IDA. "I think that all the different retail segments, between Ridge Hill and Cross County (Shopping Center) are going to complement, rather than detract, from one another, which are tremendous benefits and will drive people to the city."

Cross County, one of the oldest shopping centers in the nation having openedin 1954, is undergoing a $100 million renovation to compete with Ridge Hill which is a few miles to the north.

In August, Forest City y Ratner closed on a $630 million construction loan, marking the largest single constructionloan in the company's 20-year history. The construction is being g handled by the Building and Construction Trades Council of Westchester and Putnam Counties.

"These jobs are staying right here in Yonkers. Always go local and always go union," said Ratner, before he and 13 others donned white construction helmets and silver shovels to fling the ground-breaking soil.

"The many thousands of jobs, both construction and permanent will employ people right here," said Phil Amicone, the Mayor of Yonkers. "As we have said all along, Ridge Hill will bring millions in tax revenues that will help deliver the kinds of quality y services - including a great school system - that Yonkers residents deserve. This is a step in making Yonkers a destination again."

Amicone went on to talk about the infusion of business in the city, but was more excited about the prospect of it also benefiting the people of Yonkers.

"Community involvement has helped make this a better project as FCRC has committed to various transportation and environmental goals," Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick said. "We can all agree that the creation of jobs, housing and tax revenue are necessary to continue moving Yonkers forward."

Forest City Ratner's plans for Ridge Hill also feature a dynamic streetscape along its main strip, with extensive show windows, landscaping and abundant trees, as well as a distinctive Town Square at its center. The architectural responsibilities are being shared between Studio 5 Partnership as the working-drawing architect, and H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture L.L.C. as the design architect.

"This development represents a major investment in the county, which is yet another sign of Westchester's strong economic base, and emphasizes the tremendous confidence the business community has in the City of Yonkers," County Executive Andrew Spano said. Spano went on to describe the development as part of the Renaissance of Yonkers.