The Front Page
One era ends. A new one begins.
"White Lady of White Plains," Macy's, city signature store dies, at 54.
City Center at White Plains is born, July 17, 2001.
Mayor, emotional, says City Center begins "rebirth of White Plains," and the Cappelli demolition of Macy's is a step to filling his dream of bringing the movies back.
Cappelli hopeful of wrapping up his property acquisition by August 6.
"Super Developer" adamant on 34 and 32-story height, calls it "indispensable" to Center success, despite showing ambiguity on issue in his official remarks.
Mayor challenges Council to put "the finishing touches on the approval process in a responsible manner."
By John F. Bailey
CityLine: July 17, 2001 -- E J Conroy Drive
Louis Cappelli and Mayor Joseph Delfino together pushed down on a mock dynamite plunger at 11:05 AM Tuesday morning, and Macy's, "The White Lady of White Plains," officially died.
The City Center at White Plains was born.
Though not officially approved by the Common Council, the City Center at White Plains was beginning before the Council's eyes with the end of Macy's as we knew it. Robert Greer, Benjamin Boykin, Jr., Rita Malmud and Larry Delgado watched. Watching them, you got the feeling that they will find it hard not to approve the project, 34 stories or 25 stories. Pauline Oliva and William King did not attend.
Mr. Cappelli, interviewed after the ceremony by WPCNR, said the demolition of Macy's would proceed westward in a sweep towards Mamaroneck Avenue, systematically leveling the old building from the top to the bottom.
The developer also told WPCNR, when asked if his remarks on height yet to be determined were a softening of his position on needing 34 and 32-story heights, that "No. The height is indispensable to the success of the City Center." He emphasized the word "indispensable" rolling it very slowly in his delivery.
Starting Wednesday, the Cappelli team will remove the bridge to the Martine and Conroy garage. The developer said steady dismantling of Macy's would start big-time next Monday. The East to West push is designed to minimize inconvenience to Mamaroneck, Martine and Main Street traffic.
Mr. Cappelli told WPCNR that he was close to wrapping up acquisition of all properties he seeks to acquire for the site. He reports signing a contract with the psychological center Tuesday, which he plans to be the site of a 10-story loft residence apartment house. He has gone to contract with the Greenpoint building and the property at 7-11 Mamaroneck Avenue. He has interested Fleet Bank in becoming a tenant of the City Center and is having very friendly discussions with that owner.
The only owner he has not come to terms with is Mrs. Gloria Lin, owner of the most famous vacant storefronts in White Plains, 207-209-211 Martine Avenue. (The 209 location was the site rented by Ian Behar -- the mystery man who city sources still believe initiated his suit to kill the former Tishman-Speyer Town Center -- though a judge threw out the city's suit against Behar alleging that. A motion to reargue that case, city sources say may be imminent).
Cappelli said the Lin negotiation was "just about money," and expected he would have agreements on hers as well as the properties by August 6, the next meeting of the Common Council, with no need to engage the eminent domain process.
As the plunger descended, a recorded explosion filled the air. Confetti and balloons floated off the roof of the abandoned Macy's building. Applause from over 125 Westchester County and New York State movers and shakers and people who cared about White Plains filled the old street.
Scott Caravella, member of Engineers Local 137 of Orange County waited in the cab of his poised orange 800-horsepower Irondequoit Truckhoe Escavator. Mr. Caravella used his own muscular arms to engage the stick shifts in his HumVee-like cab and directed the long, bent 150-foot orange arm of the monster to push in the Macy's wall. Thousands of pounds of pressure punched at the dingy white wall of the old men's sweater department of Macy's Tuesday morning at 11:10 AM.
The claw pawed the wall, pushed. Bricks tumbled. Debris descended to the old entrance steps. The dark claw at the end of the long orange arm punched a hole in the Old Lady of White Plains.
The Irondequoit's claw dug out a 25-foot by 15 foot hole in the former White Plains landmark, with its signature trademark white brick crumbling to the pavement, revealing dark blue concrete blocks and darkness of retail pasts within.
Macy's, White Plains signature store, where everyone from Westchester shopped in the early 1950s, was declared officially dead after 54 years.
Once bookended by restaurants like Schrafts and Patricia Murphy's, where my grandmother and mother took me to lunch when I was a little boy,"The White Lady of White Plains" was one of the few New York department stores to have a full-size store in a suburban location. Opened in 1947, Macy's was a once-a-week treat for thousands of Westchester homemakers in a different era and a different time, for whom the words "we're going to Macy's" had the same cache' as "we're going to Disney World" does today.
Over the last 20 years, with the emergence of two major malls, The Galleria and The Westchester, the store was not drawing and its owners moved Macy's to The Galleria in 1996. Macy's has been vacant ever since. The city has strived to fill the void in its center.
Tuesday morning Macy's was gone for good.
In an official demolition ceremony, hosted by Louis Cappelli, Westchester's Super Developer, described by Mayor Delfino as "a man who gets things done," Mr. Cappelli, joined by his father, Luca and his son, three generations of Cappellis started getting things done -- again -- for White Plains.
The Demolition Ceremony began with the kilted bagpipers of the Police Emerald Society of Westchester County marching up EJ Conroy drive from Main Street at 10:47 AM, under overcast skies. As if cued by Louis Cappelli, the sun came out, warming the humid air and serving notice of "the heat" to come when the Council has to approve this project.
Louis Cappelli wore his favorite sharp-creased concrete gray suit, royal blue tie and light blue shirt, and spoke from under a white tent and podium, with an American flag and City of White Plains Battle Flag on either side, flanked by architect renderings of the City Center. He welcomed the guests who included Charles Gargano, Chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation and Sal Carrera, Director of Economic Development for Westchester County, who represented County Executive Andrew Spano.
Mr. Cappelli spoke briefly describing the project, significantly mentioning that, in addition to retail, his City Center would bring 1,000 new residents to the downtown in buildings, the height, he said, "that's got to be determined. After the buildings are opened, these people will patronize the stores in the downtown area."
Cappelli repeated his promise to transform E J Conroy Drive where his party tents, brunch buffet and speaking podium were staged into "a centerpiece park, an urban park," complete with an ice-skating rink.
Cappelli introduced Mayor Joseph Delfino, of White Plains, saying the City Center would not have happened "without a strong leader who understood the needs of developers."
The Mayor began his remarks saying "It's hard to believe how far we have come in such a short period of time," saying his administration "set out on a new course aimed at restoring our position as the premier suburban City in this region. We focused our attention on a comprehensive economic development plan including a series of initiatives aimed at jump-starting our local economy. And with the help of a great number of people, we have seen tremendous progress."
The Mayor spoke of his lowering the office vacancy rate, getting construction started on the "Hole in the Ground," the beginning of "the first residential apartment complex since 1988 (Clayton Park)," the Stop N Shop project now under way, The Container Store, and the Mamaroneck Avenue streetscape project. He also mentioned approval of 100 units of housing to Church Street and Barker, and the 281-unit JPI project at 300 Mamaroneck Avenue.
But, the Mayor was just warming up.
"How far we've come," he said. "As someone who grew up in White Plains, I have longed for the day when we could once again come to our downtown and go to the movies...I have never given up on my dream for the return of movies to our downtown. And I am hopeful today that we are one step closer to realizing that dream."
The Mayor said the Cappelli City Center for White Plains "has a little something for everyone, from movies to restaurants, shops and apartments, and of course, a community theater that White Plains can finally call its own."
Delfino drove home the point that the City Center was a better deal for White Plains: "Just to put things in perspective, the Tishman-Speyer project, approved last year, provided the city with a return of $40 million over a 25-year period after paying off debt service, which was considered a very good deal for the city. The Cappelli project, by comparison, will generate $118 million for the City for the same investment over the same period of time."
The Mayor closed his remarks with a note of ominous optimism and what appeared to be a mission for the Common Council: "Over the next couple of months, we have some finishing touches to make on the approval process but I am confident that we will get it done in a responsible manner."
Departing from his prepared remarks, the Mayor praised Louis Cappelli, the 51-year old "Super Developer," as being the man "responsible for making things happen. He is willing to invest $300 million in White Plains to make our city the way it should be. I cannot tell you how exciting a day this is for me."
Charles Gargano, Chair of the Empire State Development Corporation, representing Governor George Pataki, said "New York State is once again the place of choice for the entrepreneur and businessman to invest, build and grow. Over the past six years Governor Pataki's innovative economic polices and tax cuts have laid the foundation that enables projects like City Center at White Plains to become a reality."
Gargano mentioned that the state job rate is triple the national average, and that the Cappelli Enterprises investment "is evidence of New York's improved relationship with the private sector that (will lead to) jobs and business expansion and community rebirth thanks to the dedication and hard work of Mayor Delfino. White Plains will be a better place to live and work. Without Louis Cappelli, we wouldn't be here today."
Sal Carrera of the Westchester County Development office, for County Executive Spano, said the County Executive was "committed to economic rebirth of our communities and is committed to working in partnership with Mayor Delfino and his staff."
At that point, Mr. Cappelli and Mayor Delfino gathered about the replica of a 1960's dynamite plunger, and together conducted the symbolic "beginning of the Cappelli Center."
As the crowd of White Plains "powerful and persuasives" dispersed, white bricks that had fallen from the hole punched in the Macy's wall, were being picked up and carried away by persons with a sense of history.
Councilman Larry Delgado, seen spotted carrying away a white Macy's brick, told this reporter, he was going to give his brick an honored place in his office because, he said, "It is a true symbol that rehabilitation of downtown White Plains has really begun."
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