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RYE BROOK, NY-Westchester developer Robert Weisz is looking to convert what area brokers have called the county’s “Taj Mahal” into a multi-tenanted office building. White Plains, NY commercial real estate firm RPW Group Inc. inked a deal to acquire the 625,000-sf Altria Group complex and the facility that once housed the headquarters for General Foods, as well as operations of Philip Morris International, will be converted from a single-use property to multi-tenant use if the deal closes.

Weisz, president and chief executive officer of RPW Group, would not divulge the proposed purchased price for the property. Informed sources say the purchase price will eventually be more than $40 million. The deal is expected to close in the next 60 days. Weisz did confirm that his company has estimated that the acquisition and repositioning of the 800 Westchester Ave. complex will cost anywhere from $60 million to $90 million.

Last week, the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency gave preliminary approval to induce RPW Group’s application for approximately $4.5 million in sales and mortgage tax exemptions in connection with the proposed acquisition and repositioning of the property.

In January, the Altria Group announced that it was putting the Rye Brook complex on the market for sale and would relocate approximately 1,000 employees from its Kraft and Philip Morris divisions to other locations in Westchester County, Northbrook, IL, and Miami.

CB Richard Ellis officials had no comment on the contract signing for the property. Jeffrey R. Dunne, vice chairman, and Steve Bardsley, first vice president, of CBRE’s New York Tri-State investment team, along with senior vice president William Cuddy, are representing Altria Group in the sale of the facility.

Weisz tells GlobeSt.com, “We want to reposition it as a multi-tenant building. It is going to be the most exciting class A office building in the county.” He says that while plans are still being finalized for the subdivision of the main building for multi-tenant usage, the job will not be as difficult as some in the industry have thought.

In fact, Weisz says that preliminary estimates on the overall cost of the project (including acquisition) may be scaled back. “I think it might come in closer to $60 million or $70 million.”

Most of the renovation work will be done to the interiors of 800 Westchester Ave. and the adjoining 760 Westchester Ave. building. In addition to the repositioning program, Weisz says that upgrades will be made to the property’s numerous amenities. With the purchase, the RPW Group will have approximately 1.3 million sf of commercial space in Westchester County and 1.5 million sf portfolio-wide.

He says that his firm hopes to begin construction on the project at the start of 2005 and could have space available for occupancy by the spring of 2005. “For a building of that nature, we are going to be offering very competitive rates, in the high $20s per sf.” The property also includes 500,000 sf of enclosed parking (approximately 1,100-car capacity) and a large man-made pond at the entrance to the property.

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