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Entertainment complex proposed for downtown White Plains.

Stating that there is an opportunity to revitalize downtown White Plains, a local development company recently proposed creation of an urban entertainment center in the heart of the city. The project would include a 3,500 to 4,000-seat, 15-screen multiplex cinema and 100,000 square feet of theme restaurants, coffee shops, book and music stores, and other related retail and entertainment uses.

Halpern Enterprises, a major commercial property owner in the downtown area of the city, presented the proposal at a meeting of the White Plains Urban Renewal Agency on September 28. The company owns the 2.2-acre site. White Plains, a city of nearly 50,000 residents, has had no movie theater since the last one closed four years ago.

Halpern said the entertainment complex would be created between Main Street and Hamilton Avenue at the intersection of Mamaroneck Avenue, the historic commercial center of the city. The plan would mark the return of movie theaters to a location that once was the site of the RKO Keiths movie theater, which closed in 1972 and was demolished in 1977.

Regal Cinemas, one of the nation's fastest growing movie theater companies, would operate the proposed multiplex. Speaking at the presentation in White Plains, Rick Albertson, site consultant to Regal, said the company felt the proposed location offered excellent potential. "We believe this downtown site will not only prove to be extremely successful for us, but that an entertainment complex there will stimulate new economic activity throughout the downtown area."

Regal, headquartered in Knoxville, TN, operates nearly 100 multi-screen theaters nationwide with more than 700 screens. The company, founded in 1989, is publicly traded. It expects to add some 200 additional screens to its total over the next 12 months.

The company said the project, which it estimated would cost $25 million to construct, would provide a massive infusion of new life into the Mamaroneck Avenue commercial corridor and the entire downtown area of the city.

"Over the last 40 years the city has undergone major shifts inn's commercial development," said Jon L. Halpern, president of Halpern Enterprises. "In the 1970s, its office areas shifted to the Westchester Avenue corridor and to the area around the railroad station. During the 1980s, the retail focus shifted to the area closer to the station and to the Bloomingdale Road corridor. Together these shifts have left the traditional downtown of the city without a strong economic base."

Halpern said that the proposed entertainment complex would serve to restore the economic health of the downtown area. "This project will bring the single most important things the downtown needs - people - and particularly during the evening and on weekends when the city's downtown economy essentially dies. Truly, now is the time for downtown to get the attention it so desperately needs and deserves," he said. "This is the perfect site for an entertainment center. It is strategically located, has excellent street access and provides direct access to literally thousands of parking spaces both on site and in adjacent and lightly-used municipal and office parking structures. We think this is the perfect site for the perfect use."

The site for the entertainment complex had been approved for two office towers proposed by the Halpern company in the mid-1980s. The decline of the office market in Westchester, however, led to the eventual abandonment of that plan.

The entertainment complex would focus on the multiplex cinema. The entrance marquis for the cinemas would be on the Court Street extension between Main Street and Hamilton Avenue. The cinemas themselves would be below grade with stores and restaurants built above them.

The retail stores and restaurants would have individualized facades, awnings and other design features to create a lively streetscape, according to J. Michael Divney, the planning consultant for the project. "We will be seeking to create a feeling and vitality similar to that which downtown White Plains was so well known years ago," Divney said. "This will be very much a pedestrian-oriented and pedestrian-friendly design. People will be able to walk here easily from all points within the heart of downtown."

As would have been the case if the office buildings had been built, the development will require demolition of eight one- and two-story storefronts along Main Street. The stores have been rented to merchants on a short-term basis to avoid having empty storefronts at the city's major commercial intersection. A small annex along the Court Street extension at the back of the Bar Building (199 Main St.) will also be removed. Otherwise, the site, most of which has been used as a surface parking lot, is clear and ready for redevelopment. The Bar Building itself will remain.

Benerofe Properties Corp., which owns the Bar Building, has stated in a letter to the Urban Renewal Agency that it "wholeheartedly supports the entertainment complex proposed by Halpern." Benerofe said that as the owners of the Bar Building, as well as the White Plains Mall which is on Hamilton Avenue directly behind the proposed cinema complex, "we are excited by the opportunity presented to the downtown by this complex."

Benerofe said it is willing to make a portion of its property available for the Halpern project.

Creation of the new complex would allow the completion of the long-discussed city plan for the extension of Court Street. Currently the street ends at Main Street. The extension would carry it through to Hamilton Avenue and would provide improved traffic circulation in the city's downtown core.

Halpern said there has been strong interest in the entertainment complex among theater companies and other prospective tenants. He said Charter Realty & Development Corp. of Greenwich, CT, will be the exclusive marketing and leasing agent for the project.

Daniel Zelson, president of Charter, said his company has leased more than five million square feet of retail space across the U.S., including eight major cinema projects.

"White Plains has an obvious need for a cinema and entertainment complex," Halpern said. "This site is clearly the place to build it. We strongly believe that this is the ideal location and the right project to spur a true revitalization of the Mamaroneck Avenue corridor and the entire downtown area. We need to get people downtown. This project will do precisely that.
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 11, 1995
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