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'Distinguishing' in tough Westchester market.

Slender birch trees and puffy white clouds are reflected on the glass-sheathed office buildings clustered at Rockledge Center. Tenants park in an adjacent parking lot and walk the granite steps into the pristine lobby. Others arrive by EastRidge Properties' shuttle bus.

In the valley below, trucks rumble like a whisper along Westchester's major East West corridor, I-287, that stretches from I-95 in Connecticut to the Tappan Zee Bridge. Also known as Westchester's Platinum Mile, it is primarily along this corridor that the county's biggest and best office parks are located.

Inside, Michael J. Ziatyk, as senior vice president and managing director of Albert B. Ashforth, Inc., is marking his first year of managing the EastRidge properties, a portfolio of 18 buildings in four office parks developed and formerly controlled by Lowell Schulman.

In May of 1992, Aldrich Eastman & Walsh, an investment advisor acting on behalf of one of America's largest pension funds, took control of the buildings from Schulman, who at the time was one of the county's largest owners and managers. They appointed Albert B. Ashforth to manage the portfolio.

"The idea is to differentiate the product," he explained.

That is a tall order for the 2-million-square-foot EastRidge portfolio, which is competing in a county market that is 25 percent vacant and still announcing downsizing and layoffs.

In order to fill its buildings, many of which were constructed for one user, the properties are being repositioned as middle-market buildings with 24-hour access. They are being marketed intensely by leasing agent Edward S. Gordon Company to professionals with small businesses who appreciate the amenities usually only available in much larger corporate settings.

Ziatyk believes the smaller companies, which range in size from 2,500 square feet up to 15,000 square feet, are the future of the Westch ester market. "These are the growing companies," he observed, adding that despite the layoffs there are more companies in business today than ever before.

The number of businesses has actually been fueled by the layoffs, he explains, since many people who became unemployed are entrepreneurial in nature. "We hope they will start small offices and grow with us," he says. His wish list, however, also includes a 100,000-square-foot tenant to anchor a former IBM building that is currently empty. In conjunction with the marketing effort, EastRidge is upgrading and softening lobbies with furniture and plants; installing cafeterias, banking facilities and sundry shops and redesigning outdoor spaces. Video rentals, film development, shoe repair and dry cleaning services are available as part of the mix while a health and fitness club and child care center are in the planning stages.

"In response to the market ... owners have to be creative," Ziatyk said.

"We're not pretending to say we are the only ones doing these things," he continued. "We feel that our amenities for the price we charge here for office space translates into real value. We are not the highest priced in the market."

Ziatyk says while the properties are well-located, Class-A buildings,t hey are a 'notch below,the absolute best buildings in the marketplace." That classification has to do with the age and the materials that were used in construction, but, he said, to a tenant moving from a dingy pre-war office tower, the 1970's glass and steel structures with operable windows, surrounded by trees, grass and air are a welcome new home.

"If you have no particular ties to be there, something can happen to you in the city that will change your mind," Ziatyk said. "It will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and you say: 'Now, I'm definitely going to move to Westchester."

While EastRidge is intent on spending millions of dollars, Ziatyk notes the program is fluid and under constant reevaluation. 'We clearly have a program to improve this portfolio and make it what we like to term the most productive business environment in Westchester County," he adds.

The EastRidge properties are clustered in four office parks: White Plains Office Park; Westchester Corporate Park; Purchase Park; and Rockledge Center with one building in Downtown White Plains and another located in a different office park that was once entirely owned by Schulman and is now split among different lenders.

"We're not just-leasing office space," Ziatyk insists. "We don't rent just space as a commodity. One square foot is not the same as one square foot anywhere else in the county. We can provide different environments in the different office parks, depending on what kind of company you are."

Ashforth is differentiating the office parks while at the same time treating the properties as one big tenant family with amenities that are available to any tenant and a shuttle bus that provides rides from place to place.

The Tambrands Building in the White Plains Office Park, where Tambrands is the lead tenant, recently won the BOMA of Westchester Office Building of the Year Award in the rehabilitated and modernized category.

After taking over the White Plains Office Park, it became apparent that a circular drive was cutting off access to the Center Park. Cars have since been rerouted, new walking paths laid out, and the park replanted with locally tolerant species. A grand opening is to be held in June. Ziatyk notes that until items like cafeterias, banking facilities and a conference center were opened, there was no reason to walk from building o building.

That office park is also expected to become home to an EastRidge Fitness Center, currently in the planning stages. Ziatyk sees this facility as a natural place to expand the EastRidge social life off-site to baseball teams and racquetball tournaments.

EastRidge has already developed a conference center and auditorium there that can be used by tenants from any property and Ziatyk notes, effectively increases the size of the tenant space.

EastRidge uses these facilities itself for seminars and get-togethers for all tenant employees, organized by Lori L. Baden, director of marketing and public relations for EastRidge. Recent events have targeted fitness and speech problems in children while a Health Expo featured free medical tests given by a tenant, Oxford Medical.

Baden maintains tenants communications and plans events such as the speakers series. She also compiles the EastRidge Review newsletter. "It is to keep tenants aware of what is going on in the Parks," she explained.

The EastRidge Express free shuttle service has also helped to expand the employee pool, Ziatyk notes, by connecting the businesses with the White Plains MetroNorth station. The free buses also operate at lunchtime. Rides are also available to the nearby Westchester County Airport which is serviced by major carriers such as United.

"Westchester county has a tremendous pool of people," Ziatyk added. With that county's workforce supplemented by its easy access to Putnam and Rockland Counties and Connecticut, employers find it easy to attract workers who do not want to make the long trip into New York City. One of the trends observed in marketing Westchester has been the recognition by professionals and middle management that technology has enabled their offices to be nearer their homes and families.

Recognizing the growing need for quality and reliable day care, EastRidge is obtaining permits to build an off-site day care center that will be operated strictly for children of tenants and their employees. The center will be run by a corporate day-care specialist.

Ashforth has a philosophy of commitment to tenant services and building relationships and providing a fair service for the dollars charged, Ziatyk explains.

"We try to consistently sell that to the tenant base," he said. "We are really here to serve their needs."

In today's office environment, that kind of philosophy is key, he observes, because when it comes time to renewing a lease, management plays a very large role. He added, "Tenant satisfaction is our number one goal."
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Title Annotation:real estate market in Westchester County, New York
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 19, 1993
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