Westchester’s “Platinum Mile” is Getting Some Much-Needed Updates
Westchester’s jewel lost its luster, but the shine is coming back.
Something’s happening on the Platinum Mile: Cranes are lifting steel beams, crews are ripping out interior partitions, landlords are getting bullish about rates, and a new breed of tenant is demanding—and getting—amenities to match their higher rents. The once-thriving business corridor along I-287 from Rye to White Plains, which has been a deteriorating backwater in the County’s commercial real-estate universe for years, is coming back to life in a big way.
“Between knocking down old buildings and taking old corporate headquarters and turning them into multi-tenant buildings, there’s a lot going on,” says Glenn Walsh, executive managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. “It’s recreating what was becoming the tired end of the market.”
On top of that, Walsh points out, there’s growing demand for space from a dynamic industry—healthcare. WESTMED Medical Group anchors both ends of the Platinum Mile, while ProMed operates multiple buildings on a sprawling campus, and Memorial Sloan Kettering is constructing a $112 million complex where Verizon used to be. The parcels, already zoned for five-per-thousand-square-feet parking, made the area a natural fit for the industry, Walsh points out. Now, he suggests, “Maybe it should be known as the ‘Medical Mile.’”
At its peak in the 1980s, the Platinum Mile was Westchester’s premier business address. Sparkling corporate headquarters and gleaming office complexes peeked through the leafy hills along Westchester Avenue on both sides of I-287 and attracted a who’s who of American commerce, with IBM, Texaco, and General Foods occupying hundreds of thousands of square feet. Later came Starwood Hotels, Verizon, and Nokia. From 1972 to 1988, about 4.5 million square feet of commercial office space was built on 256 acres of land in Purchase, a hamlet in the town of Harrison. The heavily leased properties paid some 60 percent of the entire town’s tax bill.
Then the world turned on its axis. Big-name tenants disappeared in leveraged buyouts (General Foods) and strategic mergers (Texaco). Others (IBM) consolidated to corporate campuses elsewhere or were drawn to neighboring states by tax incentives (Starwood). New tenants wanted smaller spaces to accommodate smaller workforces supported with more technology—personal-computer networks don’t need miles of file drawers and web conferencing needs bandwidth, not auditorium seating in stadium-sized meeting rooms.
By 2010, according to CB Richard Ellis, the vacancy rate on the Platinum Mile was 30 percent—nearly double that of the rest of the County. The area’s contribution to Harrison’s tax base slipped to 18 percent. Dozens of once-gleaming buildings became white elephants and weeds began to sprout through the pavement in deserted parking lots, looking like sets for The Walking Dead.
In addition to socioeconomic trends that worked against the landlords, zoning that prohibits residential, retail, or restaurant development blocked much repurposing of the core of the corridor. According to Walsh, those are many of the amenities today’s office tenants are looking for, so the prohibition not only precluded repurposing of existing buildings, but lessened the desirability of those that are occupied. “They want cafeterias, fitness centers, conference centers,” he says. “They're much more important because, in today’s world, people are too busy to go out and do things. Back in the day, you had to get in your car every day to go out to lunch. You don’t even think about that today.” The closest restaurants to the Platinum Mile are in Rye, downtown White Plains, or on Anderson Hill Road in Purchase. The same holds true for gas stations, dry cleaners, or other services. As Walsh puts it, “The big complaint on the Platinum Mile is, ‘Where do you go at lunch time?’”
While the town has zoned much of the area “SB” (Special Business) districts, only part of it allows educational uses, hotels, fitness centers, and daycare. Granting special-use permits for those categories showed just how successful repurposing can be as Life Time Athletic tore down the Journal News building on Gannett Drive and built a 209,000-square-foot facility that opens this spring. Earlier, Fordham created a campus at 400 Westchester Avenue and EastRidge Enrichment Center debuted a daycare facility at 109 Corporate Drive.
That’s not to say landlords have abandoned traditional office space completely. Normandy Real Estate Partners owns 14 buildings on the Platinum Mile that it collectively markets as “The Exchange.” Last year, the company announced a $30 million effort to spruce up the properties. Currently, about 35 percent of the company’s 1.6 million square feet of space is vacant.
Harrison, meanwhile, is implementing a new Master Plan, according to Mayor Ron Belmont. “What was at one time the jewel of Westchester County, the Platinum Mile, is now in mothballs,” he points out. “If we can bring it back, the town can start thriving.”
The revised plan will create a new SB-MX (Mixed Use) zone for the area bounded by I-287, I-684, and the Hutchinson River Parkway. The revision will allow special permits to be issued for assisted-care and senior housing, as well as retail service, retail business, and restaurants with a maximum floor area of 25,000 square feet. If that move proves successful, other areas along the Platinum Mile might be rezoned as well.
While that change would certainly encourage redevelopment, it would also create some additional burdens, particularly on traffic. Currently, none of the east-west streets in the area connect, so parcels are segmented and isolated. There also aren’t many sidewalks, so tenants wanting to step out for a quick bite would still have to hop in their cars if their building doesn’t have a restaurant. According to the Master Plan, the SB-MX designation would require new development to include connecting streets and sidewalks.