Ask Westchester, September 2012: Abandoned Health Club on Central Avenue in Scarsdale

Getting to the bottom of wetlands, seagulls, and restaurant closings.

Q: There is an abandoned health club on Central Avenue in Scarsdale, just north of Burger King, and across from Candlelight Inn. This club has not been open for what seems like 30 years, but is still standing. What can you tell me about this building? Why is it still standing?
—James Gettler, via e-mail

A: We knew this day would come. It’s sort of a relief, really. Fair reader, we have not been totally truthful with you. We’ve bragged in the past that we are unstumpable, but we…aren’t. This question, for example. We’ve poked, prodded, interviewed, e-mailed, called, burgled—wait, not that last one—done everything to answer this question to no avail. So, we just kept avoiding it. But sometimes, just sometimes, all you need is a little help from your friends. Or in our case, a really devoted summer intern. We’ll call him Matthew G, so as to preserve him for future undercover work. And thanks to the assist from Mr. G, we have an answer, straight from Dennis Dilmaghani, president of Mehdi Dilmaghani & Co. Inc., who owns the building.
He explains that the building used to be a spa. Opened in 1968, it passed through multiple out-of-town owners, including Jack LaLanne and Bally Total Fitness, the latter signing a 10-year lease in 1992. But Bally decided the property was too small and shut it down soon thereafter, all the while paying the rent and trying to market the vacant property. In the early 2000s, Bally did not renew the lease, and the property was returned in “seriously deteriorated condition” to its owners. Dilmaghani & Co. tried to redevelop the property but got stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire—specifically, compliance with the “[Greenburgh Protection of Steep Slopes legislation], with guidelines that inhibited development by reducing the allowable footprint of the proposed building by twenty percent,” Dilmaghani says. This stunk for Dilmaghani, because they had a tenant all lined up to fill the space. So down the sinkhole went more than $100,000 in “engineering, architectural, and legal fees.”
Dilmaghani blames the town for overlooking the effect their environmental efforts would have on businesses, but hopes this will all change with release of the new Master Plan. So, why is it still standing? Because it hasn’t been torn down. Whether it will be in good standing seems to be up to the owners and the town.Q: I was born and raised in Westchester and am now raising my own family here, so I’ve seen a lot of changes. However, one thing seems to remain the same: Seagulls are always flying around the Target Shopping Center in Mount Kisco. It was the exact same way when it was the Bazaar Mall Shopping Center. What about this location makes it so attractive to seagulls? You never see them anywhere else around Mount Kisco. Is it possible there was once a lake there?
—Jen Schwartz, Chappaqua native,
current Bedford resident

A: What is a “Chappaqua native,” anyway? Sounds like an aborigine living in a well-decorated hut. According to R. Lawrence Swanson, director of Waste Reduction and Management Institute, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University (i.e., the guy who answers these types of questions), “gulls” (there really isn’t a seagull, he tells us) “do migrate to locations far from the water.” Why? “To find places where they can drop shells on a hard surface so they can open the shells and get the food inside. Parking lots are a favorite.” And the shopping center has a huge parking lot.

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Q: How many restaurants on average open and close in Westchester in one year?
— Eli A. Hark

There are just over 900 full-service restaurants in Westchester. Figuring out how many new restaurants popped up in the last year isn’t that difficult. You can essentially compare last year’s phonebook to this year’s and find an answer. But, okay, that’s not all that scientific, and good luck finding out how many closed. Deceased eateries don’t exactly notify the Yellow Pages. So we took another route to answer your question. We inquired of the Westchester County Department of Health how many restaurants from last year failed to recertify this year. According to Caren Halbfinger, director, public health information and communication: 390. But don’t raid the pantry at Blue Hill just yet. Five hundred forty-one new permits were issued, and that’s of 3,500 total—because permits go to more than just “full-service” restaurants (think X2O vs. Dunkin’ Donuts). That’s not to say there were 541 new restaurants, as some were just changes in ownership (though specific numbers don’t exist). “This is pretty consistent year to year,” Halbfinger adds. So, rest assured—our “food” section isn’t going away any time soon.

Photo by Barrie Tovar

Atlas, so sad and alone at the abandoned health club on Central Avenue in Scarsdale.

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