When a Transit Agency Becomes a Suburban Developer
Like many towns across America, Harrison, New York is desperate to revitalize its downtown. The same old grocery stores and nail salons have made up most of the retail landscape for years. “If you look at a picture from the 1950s and ’60s, it looks the same today as it did then, with the same places,” says Ron Belmont, the town supervisor. “There’s not much variety.”
The big magnet to the Westchester County town is its Metro-North Railroad commuter rail station, which provides a 45-minute connection to midtown Manhattan. Although Harrison has had a steady population increase since 2010, Belmont is thinking about the future: namely, a younger generation that prefers the bustle of urban life to the quiet of suburbia. The community needs more to make them stick around, he believes. “What I’m trying to do is attract Millennials, so eventually they want to buy here in Harrison,” he said.
That is what inspired Harrison’s Halstead Avenue project, a $76.8 million mixed-use real estate development built in collaborationbetween the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which oversees the Metro-North, and developer AvalonBay Communities. It is the first time ever that the Metro-North will sell a parcel of its land for transit-oriented development (TOD); in this case: 143 apartments, 27,000 square feet of retail space, two pedestrian plazas, and a 598-space parking garage, most of which is reserved for the public and commuters.
After a seven-year approval process, construction kicked off in June on the site, which is currently a park-and-ride on the Connecticut-bound side of the Harrison train station. “This would be a great shot in the arm for the downtown area,” said Belmont.
The New York MTA, the largest transit agency in the U.S., is becoming more familiar with this type of construction. The Hudson Yards project—where the MTA decked over its train yards, and sold the rights to developers for $1 billion to build an entire Manhattan neighborhood on top, with a new subway line extension beneath—is perhaps the largest TOD project in American history. At One Vanderbilt Avenue, an office building being constructed across from Grand Central Terminal, developer fees to the MTA will pay for interior improvements throughout the huge hub.