YONKERS-Although site clearing work began months ago, Forest City Ratner Cos. officially broke ground on its 1.2 million-sf Ridge Hill mixed-use project here on Wednesday. Company officials reported that the firm has signed lease deals with Banana Republic, New York & Company, National Amusements Cinema, Whole Foods Market and L.L. Bean. National Amusements will operate a 12-screen, 3,000-seat multi-plex cinema in 67,000 sf of space; Whole Foods Market has signed on to open a 62,000-sf store.

L.L. Bean has signed a lease for 25,000 sf and will open its first Westchester County store and only its second in New York State. Fashion retailers Banana Republic and New York & Company have signed leases for 9,000 sf and 6,400 sf respectively.

Bruce Ratner, chairman and CEO of Forest City Ratner Cos. tells GlobeSt.com that “it is a great project. It does a few things. First of all it provides about 4,000 permanent jobs to the City of Yonkers, which is great. Second is the tax base–$62 million a year to Westchester County (at full build-out) and most importantly $24 million a year to the City of Yonkers.” Ridge Hill, which sits on 81.4 acres across the New York State Thruway from Stew Leonard’s, will feature retail; restaurants; cinema and other entertainment uses; 1,000 apartments, including 200 units earmarked for residents 55 years and older and 135 units of affordable housing; a hotel; and conference center. The property also currently contains 154,400 sf of existing office and research related space.

Ratner, who said Target is also considering leasing space at Ridge Hill adds “there has been a lot of interest (in the retail space). I am very confident this project will do really good.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2009 and will employ a total of 5,500 construction workers. While company officials have not been released hard development cost estimates, in August of this year Forest City Ratner Cos. closed on the largest construction loan in the company’s 20-year history. A trio of lenders will provide a total of $630 million in financing: Bank of America, ING Real Estate Finance and Key Bank Real Estate Capital.

Forest City officials estimate the firm will be spending approximately $35 million to improve the infrastructure surrounding the site, including the building of a bridge that will connect the southbound side of the New York State Thruway to the site. Company officials say the bridge venture will likely be a public-private partnership with New York State.

Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone said at the groundbreaking that despite the controversy surrounding the project, which took five years to obtain final city approvals, Ridge Hill has been a catalyst for other development projects now either under construction or on the drawing boards.

“This was the first huge step in the rebuilding of the City of Yonkers,” he said, noting that once other developers saw one of the top retail developers invest in Yonkers, they followed suit. The city currently has well in excess of $3 billion in new projects in the pipeline.

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