Sports and fitness center projects are reviving vacant buildings and underused properties and adding new muscle to Westchester County’s weak commercial real estate market.
In Ardsley, a family partnership is rebuilding vacant industrial office and warehouse space as a year-round sports facility.
In Harrison, a Minnesota-based company has won key approvals to develop an approximately $45 million fitness center to replace a closing newspaper plant. And owners of a swim-instruction company plan to construct a pool building next year at a nearby Harrison office-park enclave.
Donald Scherer, CEO of Elm Street Sports Group, plans to convert this Ardsley warehouse into a year-round indoor sports center.
In Ardsley, Elm Street Sports Group L.L.C. has begun demolition work for its House of Sports, an 85,000-square-foot sports and recreational facility at 1 Elm St. The owners expect construction on the project, estimated at $12 million to $14 million, to be completed next summer in time for a September 2012 grand opening.
It is the first sports venture for partners in the company headed by CEO Donald Scherer. Principals include Scherer’s mother, Joan Scherer, and the CEO’s sister and brother-in-law, Stephanie and Ira Israel. The Scherers sold their former business, CrossBorder Solutions, an international tax software company, to the Thompson Reuters Corp. in 2007. Their House of Sports business operates from the Ardsley office of the family’s former startup enterprise, Ballyhoo Software.
An architect’s rendering of House of Sports at 1 Elm St., Ardsley
Elm Street Sports group this fall paid $3.9 million to acquire the office and warehouse building at 1 Elm St. in a deal brokered by Paul Adler and Ann K. Silver at Rand Commercial Services. Located between the Saw Mill River Parkway and I-87, the two-story building was vacated a few years ago by Selecto Products Inc., a non-foods general merchandiser for supermarkets, Adler said.
Donald Scherer said the new owners will add a third story to the building and use the first floor for parking space. The second level will hold 30,000 square feet of playing courts with a café and party rooms occupying the former industrial tenant’s office and showroom space.
The building’s mezzanine will be rebuilt as an 11,000-square-foot performance training center that will include a sprint track. The third floor will hold a 265-foot-by-120-foot turf field.
Scherer said the facility will focus on training-academy programs in basketball, soccer, lacrosse and baseball for children from ages 2 through 18. “Our sweet spot is probably the elementary and junior high” students not yet involved in high school sports, he said. Adult sports leagues and programs will operate during hours when the center is not used by children.
The House of Sports is expected to create 13 full-time jobs, 16 part-time jobs and 25 seasonal part-time jobs.
Unlike domed athletic facilities in the area, “We’re building a traditional steel building. This will be the first fully functional indoor sports center in Westchester,” Scherer said.
“We’re giving kids a place to play,” he said. “There’s a shortage of indoor recreational space” in Westchester.
Another aspiring new player in the Westchester market could pose potential competition for the House of Sports in the town of Greenburgh. Tarrytown-based Game On 365 L.L.C. has proposed to build the Westchester Field House, a 94,000-square-foot air dome, as part of a year-round recreational complex at a former nursery at 715 Dobbs Ferry Road.
Scherer, though, said he does not expect that project to pass an environmental review because of 345-kilovolt power lines that cross the property, which he said could pose a health risk to children from electromagnetic exposure. Ground contamination from the former nursery operation also could require a costly clean-up by the developer, he said.
Robert F. Gould, CEO of Game On 365, said the power lines on his company’s proposed development were not considered a health hazard. “In our investigation we did not consider it to be an obstacle, nor have we been told by any town or public official that it is.”
“If the power lines pose a problem, the private golf course across the street would need to close too…It goes across everybody’s properties,” he said.
Gould said his company in its proposal to the town recommended a public-private partnership for any environmental clean-up. He said the developer is prepared to do any required remediation for an oil spill that has been reported on the site.
The Greenburgh town board is expected to act on three developers’ proposals for the nursery property by Dec. 6 and close on a development agreement by Dec. 30.
The Westchester County Industrial Development Agency has tentatively approved financial assistance for the Ardsley project and for a 209,000-square-foot fitness center to be built at 1 Gannett Drive in Harrison.
In Harrison, Life Time Fitness Inc. expects to close on its purchase of a 22.4-acre site from Gannett Satellite Information Network Inc., after the Harrison Town Board recently approved a special use permit for the project. Based in Chanhassen, Minn., Life Time, a publicly traded company that operates 90 health and fitness centers in 20 states, plans to build a two-story health spa, fitness and tennis center at the Gannett Office Park site.
Demolition of the 232,000-square-foot office and warehouse complex occupied by The Journal News, Gannett’s daily regional newspaper, could begin mid-2012, followed by the start of construction in early 2013, a Life Time representative recently told county IDA officials. The center could open in 2014.
Gannett last year relocated its printing operations and 166 jobs to New Jersey amid a series of downsizings across the company’s chain of newspapers. Its remaining Journal News staff is expected to relocate in Harrison in 2012.
Harrison town officials also have approved a zoning change to allow owners of Aqua Tots Westchester to build a 6,000-sqaure-foot, one-story building at 45 W. Red Oak Lane. Owners and sisters Aileen Crampton Bucciero and Fiona Crampton Kearney are awaiting approval from county health officials of their plans for a four-lane, 60-foot pool on the property, where a small residence will be demolished.
Aqua Tots Westchester currently rents the Manhattanville College pool for its instructional programs for children. Bucciero said they hope to open their own facility by January 2013.