It’s no secret that Westchester’s urban centers — downtown White Plains, New Rochelle, and Yonkers, among others — are having their Renaissance moment. With new announcements almost daily about proposals and groundbreakings for mixed-use projects and transit-oriented developments, our urban cores are clearly where the action is when it comes to living and playing in Westchester.
But urban Millennials and downsizing boomers aren’t the only ones being wooed by a walkable lifestyle and easy access to transit. Corporations large and small are taking notice too, embracing the idea that a downtown Westchester location is a big selling point for employees. The latest company to espouse this philosophy is Danone, which includes such well-known brands as Dannon and Evian. The company just announced it is relocating its North American headquarters to a 100,000 square foot former retail space in downtown White Plains, at 100 Bloomingdale Road.
Danone has had a presence in Westchester for more than 25 years, with a current location in Greenburgh. Many of its divisions (including its accessory food laboratory), which had moved to other out-of-county locations, will be returning to Westchester when the move is made early next year to the Bloomingdale Road site. The office will undergo an extensive re-imagining to suit the needs of the global brand.
In a statement, the company cites as its goal for the move to White Plains, “the development of a modern, flexible workplace that will fully leverage technology, enhance collaboration, and align with the company’s unique culture and global brand, along with the location in a vibrant community accessible via mass transit.”
“We prioritized efficient and flexible design solutions for the changing style of our workplace that we envision for our future,” explained Dessislava Miteva, the company’s chief people officer and VP of human resources. “We want as much open space as possible to maintain the sense of community we currently have, to encourage informal and ad-hoc communication, and to ensure as much freedom and autonomy as possible in an energetic and exciting workplace. Additionally, being within walking distance to restaurants, shopping and mass transit are important for our company.”
To make the move viable from a financial perspective, Danone received assistance from the County of Westchester Industrial Development Agency, and by the State of New York, Empire State Development through its Excelsior Jobs Program and Capital Grant programs.
Most importantly, perhaps, was the move by the City of White Plains to approve a zoning amendment that allows Danone to operate its accessory food laboratory in White Plains. “We are deeply grateful for the support… which helped to keep our company in the area and allow us to significantly update and upgrade the setting in which we work, which will allow us to continue to be a significant contributor to community stability and growth here in White Plains,” said Miteva.
Other large firms embracing the downtown trend in White Plains include Heineken USA, whose US headquarters, since 2011, have taken up more than 50,000 square feet on two floors in a Hamilton Avenue high-rise; and New York Life, which recently announced a move from its current location in Mount Pleasant to a 146,000 square foot space at 44 South Broadway. Also calling downtown White Plains home are smaller companies, like branding and marketing firm, Little Big Brands, which just moved to a funky 8,300 square foot space at One North Broadway.
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Over in Yonkers, companies including digital applications developer IAC Applications, biotech firm ContraFect Corporation, and Kawasaki Rail Car Inc., all selected the iPark Hudson complex for similar reasons of urban practicality and flair. IAC Applications, for its part, sited the iPark buildings’ combination of “historic style and modern convenience” (it is situated in walking distance to the Yonkers Metro-North station) as part of its reasoning for its move there in 2013.
While it’s too soon to call the suburban office park a relic of Westchester’s commercial real estate past, it’s clear the trend for many companies now is these urban locations. The prevailing wisdom seems to be, if you have to spend your 9-5 somewhere, why not in a more convenient, lively, and walkable area?