County Executive George Latimer signed a 99-year lease agreement Thursday to advance the proposed $1.2 billion biotech project on 60 acres of county-owned land near Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.
The lease signing for the project, known as North 60, came during the annual county executive’s address of Westchester County Association (WCA) members at its breakfast in Tarrytown. Developer John Fareri, of Fareri Associates, whose company emerged as the developer from the Request for Proposal process, joined Latimer on the dais at the event to sign the agreement.
“We want to be a county that uses forethought so that we look forward and ahead on the cutting edge of an industry that is clearly going to be the growth industry of the future,” Latimer said after the breakfast.
In what WCA President and CEO William Mooney called the biggest development project in the county in at least 30 years, up to two million square feet of biotech and medical office space would be built along with a 120- to 135-unit hotel. There would also be a retail component to North 60.
The application will require a zoning change from the Mount Pleasant Town Board and site plan review from the town’s Planning Board.
Fareri said he hopes that an expedited review process would enable his team to receive the necessary approvals in 12 to 18 months. If approved, the project would be built in multiple phases that could take 10 to 15 years to complete, he said. The first phase would call for the construction of 220,000 square feet of biotech and medical office space, the hotel, which will also feature conference rooms, and 80,000 square feet of rental space.
Fareri said his company has been preparing for close to a decade to move forward and was confident the project will be a boon for the county. Over the next few months Fareri Associates plans to submit the necessary documents to begin the environmental review.
“This will be a great economic engine for not only Westchester but for the entire region,” he said.
Under the terms of the lease agreement, Westchester will receive $125,000 a year in rent plus 6 percent of the annual gross rental income. The county’s share does not include revenue derived from the hotel. It was not mentioned how much in tax revenue that will also be generated by the project.
The total amount of new construction and the final breakdown between biotech uses and retail will ultimately be determined by market demands, Fareri said.
County officials and business leaders hailed the signing as a monumental step forward that will position the county as a national and international leader in the biotech industry.
Mooney estimated North 60 will bring between 7,000 and 9,000 permanent jobs to the county that are mostly high skill. Building the project is expected to generate about 4,000 construction jobs, he said.
“(It’s) one of the best things in the history of Westchester County,” Mooney said.
Board of Legislators Chairman Ben Boykin (D-White Plains) called North 60 a “generational project” for Westchester.
“It’ll bring significant tax revenue into the county, tremendous job and growth opportunities,” Boykin said. “This is about economic development at its highest and we’ll say proudly today that we’ll move forward with this.”
Legislator Margaret Cunzio (C-Mount Pleasant) said having new construction that will generate tax revenue and jobs without having new residences will help benefit the coffers of the town as well as the Mount Pleasant and Pocantico Hills school districts.
She said town officials support the project and look forward to moving along the review.
“This will really expand Westchester’s reputation as a biotech hub,” Cunzio said. “We also have to focus on all the construction and labor jobs that come with it. Jobs start right away on construction (and last) for years. It’s something that everyone should be proud of.”
Although the Board of Legislators unanimously approved the lease agreement in late 2017, former county executive Rob Astorino didn’t sign it before he left office. Latimer, who complimented Astorino for initiating the project, said that his administration reviewed the agreement but signing was delayed because the possibility of adding a residential component arose and was debated.
Ultimately, a residential portion was omitted, although Latimer said that if one is added the lease would have to be amended. Fareri, who owns 20 acres that are adjacent to the county property, can propose housing at a future date on his land, which would only require approvals from the town, he said.
Michael Welling, co-founder of the Westchester Biotech Project and a partner for Meridian Risk Management, said a wide assortment of companies and organizations could call North 60 home. It could include data analytics firms, wet labs and dry labs, research organizations and corporate headquarters, he said.
The biotech industry is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative in the world, Welling added.
“I see that in 20 years from now that we could be a global leader in biotech space,” Welling said. “We now have the resources here to do it.”