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Westchester County Exec Signs Lease For Biotech Center

The Westchester County executive and a developer have signed a lease to move forward with a biotech hub. The lease agreement had been approved by the county Board of Legislators in 2017 under the previous administration, but the current county executive wanted to vet it when he took office.

Democratic County Executive George Latimer and Fareri Associates President John Fareri officially signed the 99-year lease of the North 60 property during Latimer’s recent address at the Westchester County Association breakfast. The plan is to use 60 acres north of Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla on the Grasslands Reservation as part of a public-private partnership known as North 60. Fareri says he is confident that a hub focused on biotech and medical technology research and development, along with retail and hotel space, will be a major economic engine for the county. Latimer discussed plans that emerged from Fareri and the Astorino administration.

“And they were working to put together a plan to create a biotech center there, x amount of square footage, I think potentially up to 2 million, although we’ll see how we get up to 2 million. We start where we start in a multi mixed retail, hotel use facility,” Latimer said. “The arrangements for that lease were approved by the Board of Legislators at the very end of 2017. When I came in in 2018 we looked at the lease. There was a question as to whether or not there was going to be an emphasis on adding housing to that. And we went through a period of time where that was under discussion. That is no longer under discussion, so we went back to the original lease arrangements.”

Latimer came into office to an unsigned lease after the unanimous go-ahead for the project by county legislators in 2017. While the Latimer administration was doing its due diligence and reviewing the terms and conditions of the lease, the developer proposed adding uses of the property which were not previously included in the lease, including residential use, arts and cultural use. In an effort to get to work on the project, Latimer says the developer agreed to withdraw these proposed uses.

“We’ve had numerous meetings. We looked at the contract. We wanted to be sure what we were doing was in the best interest of the county taxpayer. We are partners moving forward. There are other procedural steps that have to happen, Town of Mount Pleasant, financing, there’s a host of other things ahead of us. But we are now partners to see that this succeeds,” said Latimer. “And, I might say, there’s a risk. I learned this in my business life a well, there’s a risk in everything. Things don’t always turn out the way you planned, but if you don’t take risks, you don’t succeed.”

Prudent risk, he says. The Town of Mount Pleasant will undertake an environmental review once it receives documents from Fareri. And the development will be subject to the town’s zoning regulations and planning board approvals. Conservative county legislator Margaret Cunzio, whose district includes the North 60, believes the $1.2 billion project will have a positive impact on the county, the Town of Mount Pleasant and the two school districts involved -- the Mount Pleasant Central School District and the Pocantico Hills School District. It was in April 2017 when former County Executive Astorino, a Republican, announced the project and its expected approval by the Board Legislators. Here’s Latimer.

“Let me compliment Rob Astorino, my predecessor, and his team, for advancing it to the point that it was advanced. We did not create this from ground zero. We inherited it. I talk about things that we’ve inherited that I wasn’t so happy about,” Latimer said. “But it is also important, in this society, if you’re going to build lines across the aisles, you must credit people when they’ve done something right. This was not possible without the work of the Astorino administration as well. So please give them the recognition that they deserve.”

Democratic Legislator Michael Kaplowitz, who was Board Chair when the lease was approved by the legislature in 2017, says the development of a biotech Silicon Valley in Westchester will create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity.

The first phase requires the developer to create 220,000 square feet devoted to biotech and medical technology use; 100,000 square feet in medical office space; 80,000 square feet in retail space and a hotel with 120 rooms and conference facilities. Fareri Associates is the developer that was instrumental in creating the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. The president of Pace University says the Westchester BioScience and Technology Center would provide internships and research opportunities for students.

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