SOMERS, N.Y. - Pepsi’s one-time home in Somers—a sprawling property rarely seen by residents but contributing importantly to town finances—is poised for “dramatic change,” Supervisor Rick Morrissey said last week.
An art gallery, health club and restaurant are among the attractions expected to make the once barely visible complex a more-familiar sight to the public, Morrissey told a Chamber of Commerce dinner. On the fiscal side, while the building’s owner has begun lining up replacement tenants, they occupy so far something less than 10 percent of the nine-story building’s available space.
Morrissey and Planning Board Chairman John Currie discussed the “State of the Town” in separate talks April 20 at Le Fontane Ristorante.
“Nobody really knows that building over there,” the supervisor said. “It’s always been cloistered, by itself.”
But, he told some two-dozen diners, “You’re going to see a dramatic change in that. They’re going to welcome the public in there.”
Addressing the Chamber for his third consecutive year as the town’s chief operating officer, Morrissey spoke off-the-cuff for more than 20 minutes on a wide array of local issues. Along the way he discussed:
• Cheaper electricity and renewable energy, made possible by town participation in separate initiatives driven by Sustainable Westchester and coordinated locally by the Somers Energy Environment Committee;
• Traffic controls, including new signal lights, reworked intersections and reduced speeds to improve safety; and,
• Town finances, including the results of the latest annual audit, the dollars-and-cents benefit of bonding some expenditures and the designation of a grant writer to seek out available money.
For much of his talk, Morrissey strode through familiar territory, breaking little new ground. But he surprised some in the room with his discussion of the erstwhile Pepsi property. Just over a year ago, the soft drink and snack giant announced it was leaving Somers after three decades as world headquarters for its bottling group.
The last of some 900 employees moved out this month, Morrissey said, leaving behind their office building, more than 200 wooded acres on the Muscoot Reservoir and a property-tax obligation running to some $2 million annually.
From the outset, Morrissey has characterized the departure of Pepsi, once the site’s owner and later its tax-paying tenant, as a serious but not devastating blow to town finances. The building’s management company, Murray Hill Properties, would find new tenants, he said.
The first of those tenants have come aboard, Morrissey announced at the dinner.
“I’m happy to say that they’ve agreed to [lease] 15,000 square feet,” he said. Another potential tenant has agreed to take 30,000 square feet, he said, making it clear that “I don’t know the specifics as to which companies these are.”
Murray Hill Properties did not respond to a request for comment.
“What they’re planning to do is repurpose the space,” Morrissey said of the landlord.
“They’ve hired a catering outfit that’s going to run a restaurant that’s open to the public,” he said. A planned sports club will come equipped with workout machines and other exercise and fitness gear. “They’ll have memberships over there,” he said.
The new-look lobby will have art on display.
“I see some good things potentially happening there. So,” Morrissey told the business leaders, “if anybody’s looking, there’s probably about 500,000 square feet available.” His audience laughed in response.
The cheaper electricity, a drop of about 10 percent in the supply cost, is the culmination of “a project the Town Board has been working on for two years,” Morrissey said. Under it, New York State Electric & Gas customers in Somers should see the supply cost—reflecting about half their electric bill—fall by about 10 percent for the next three years. The bill’s other half, which includes the utility’s transmission, service and administrative charges, is not affected.
Somers, in conjunction with a score of other Westchester municipalities, leveraged the mass-market buying clout of their populations to negotiate more-favorable rates with independent energy supply companies.
On a separate energy front, Somers joined with New Castle to encourage rooftop solar-power installations by offering reduced prices and simplified paperwork. By March 31, their five-month “Solarize Somers-New Castle” campaign had signed up 76 homeowners and earned each town a free 5-kilowatt system.
Traffic conditions are also undergoing change, the supervisor reported. Brick Hill Road and the high school driveway either have or will soon get traffic lights and state highway engineers are being asked to consider a speed reduction on Route 100 and a redesign of its intersection with Route 35, perhaps with a roundabout.
The state has already reworked the intersection of Route 138 and Route 100 to eliminate a tough entrance ramp.
“They did that on their own initiative,” he said of state Department of Transportation officials, after a study found there had been 49 crashes at the intersection in the last three years. “The new setup should cut down considerably on that,” Morrissey said.
Asked about the juncture of Lake Road with Route 202, where a crash killed a Somers man in January, Morrissey said it was not among the specific trouble spots referred to the state. But, he said, “We can certainly bring up that intersection with them as well.”
On the fiscal side of things, Morrissey said the town had successfully completed its annual audit by the accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies (Harrison).
“Somers, as opposed to some of our neighbors, is in a strong financial situation,” he said. The town is striving to remain tax-cap-compliant, he said, no small feat when the permitted spending increase over last year had to stay below 2 percent. “We’re trying to maintain the lowest tax base possible.”
In addition, he said, the town is looking to increase its income with the designation of someone to seek out available grant money and to cut its expenditures through such steps as the refinancing of existing debt.
As an example of the latter, he cited a projected saving of almost a half-million dollars through bonding anew Somers’ share of the Angle Fly Preserve purchase. The town borrowed $4 million in 2006 to join the state, county and New York City in buying the 654-acre expanse from a real estate developer for $20.5 million.
Morrissey credited Robert Kehoe, the director of finance, with pointing out the potential savings that were possible by re-bonding the town’s contribution.
“So, last year,” he said, “we went out and we got a very good rate, and over the length of our bond, we’re going to save $465,000.”
Morrissey spoke after the appetizer course. After dinner, the Planning Board’s chairman, John Currie, briefed Chamber members and guests on the status of a number of major projects now under way. They included:
• Somers Crossing, a 62-townhome and supermarket project expected to change the face of the downtown hamlet;
• Hidden Meadow, a 45-townhome development in Baldwin Place, will set aside eight affordable units that will also include a one-bedroom rental apartment, for a total of 53 housing units; and,
• The Crossroads at Baldwin Place, a complex of shops, offices and rental housing on the current site of a golf driving range on Route 6, across from the Stop & Shop shopping mall.