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The Common Council at work:

Council approves "PILOT" for Cappelli City Center Project in demanded vote of confidence.

No more Mr. Nice Guy: Approval of financing comes on the spot after Cappelli demands approval for entire project by September Council meeting.

City projected to realize $118 million over 25 years.

Delgado: only 2 issues remain: height and value of EJ Conroy Drive.

Cappelli: No approval by beginning of September is "Unthinkable."

By John F. Bailey

CityLine: July 11, 2001 -- City Hall

Louis Cappelli, emboldened by what he perceived as stronger support for his City Center project at the Tuesday evening Council of Neighborhood Associations meeting, walked out of City Hall Wednesday night with Common Council approval of the financial Payment In Lieu of Taxes arrangement for the City Center just the way he wanted it.

After an hour and a half Executive Session, the Council approved the PILOT unanimously, just as Mr. Cappelli had presented it.

Cappelli's PILOT will pay the city a guaranteed $118 million over 25 years, and the city will make considerably more in sales taxes and accessibles if the project is successful. Over the fifteen year life of the Payment In Lieu of Taxes program approved Wednesday evening, the City Center will pay the City of White Plains on the City Center alone, $53,884,435.

This, according to figures released by the City Wednesday evening, represents a $33,018,220 increase in payments to the city over what was projected for the previous Town Center project. The PILOT agreement on the garage was not available last evening.

PILOT approved after Cappelli levels an ultimatum to Council.

The approval of the PILOT was the Council's response to Mr. Cappelli's impassioned presentation which warned the council bluntly that the project was at risk because his tenants were expressing doubts as to whether the project was viable due to Common Council footdragging.

Cappelli was quietly frank, and you could "feel the quiet" in the Mayor's conference room. This was not the Louis Cappelli the Council has come to know, as he said:

"I'm starting to hear from tenants and firms that they want to have some assurance before they go to planners or they see bankers and their boards. They want to know how real is the project. My concern is you'll think 'He (Cappelli) is trying to push us.' This is a frank discussion before we discuss financing tonight. A lot of credibility in the project needs to be reinforced (by the council)."

Cappelli directly accused the Common Council of deliberately delaying the project because of the election: "Time is not an ally here. I was hesitant to say it, I realize it is an election year, but the world is not against this. The world is not against height in the downtown. Three times they applauded me last night (at the Council of Neighborhood Associations meeting). (WPCNR counts once.) One person said 'So what's the big deal about 34 stories?' and they all applauded."

Cappelli said that "after 25 years of PILOT, the City is $118 million in the positive. I don't want to get involved in picking at the pieces of agreement that is net net to you after 25 years. We don't have the time to be haggling over the pieces because financial markets change. Tenants change. Bankers change. Tishman's net to you was $40 million after the parking garage. My net to you is $118 million. Everything else is academic. It is really moot."

At this point, Councilpersons' faces were very long, lips pouted and no one was breathing as Mr. Cappelli continued in a smooth, icy cordial style they had not seen before.

'Halpern (John) is fighting with me over a hotel. Rotundi is offering $2 million to $3 million to owners of the deli and book store because he wants to build 170 units of condominiums. Rotundi is not going to be interested if I have a car accident. $118 million to you is a lot of money. $300 million from me is unproven. Developing is a big crap shoot. I do you less of a disservice by walking away than by building the City Center and having it fail, or to build something smaller that fails. I've tripled his deal (The Tishman-Speyer Deal)...I'd like some certainty here that we have an understanding. I have to have it. My tenants, my banks have lost faith in the project."

At this point, Benjamin Boykin referred to the Tishman Speyer process one year ago: "We did do a traffic study and an economic study. There was not one moment of delay."

Mayor Joseph Delfino sharply objected to Mr. Boykin's recollection: "Tishman Speyer set the July 10 date because they didn't have the time. We warned you we didn't have time. We waited three and a half years. We've got to get it done."

Boykin said, "We will."

Rita Malmud, Council President said to Cappelli, "I think all seven councilmembers in various ways have been very positive and publicly so. Just because one or more of us asked certain questions, it doesn't mean, in my opinion, that we're not enthusiastic about the kind of project here. Just because you don't agree 100% doesn't mean you want the project to go away. I also think you will do very well."

Cappelli pointed out, "I'm risking a family fortune on this. There's one difference. You're taking no risk. You're guaranteed this money ($118 million). I'm not guaranteed my tenants."

Malmud gently said, "I do want to stress it's just as big a risk for us, because if this doesn't work, it's a failure for our downtown."

Cappelli said "That is not what this is all about." He referred to the Council's discussion of not extending the Tishman site plan approval, (which they did extend July 2), saying that was an embarrassment to him and that it really hurt his credibility.

Pauline Oliva asked if he had gotten any guarantees he could build the project. Cappelli said no he had not, but that by the Council discussing not extending the site plan of Tishman Speyer, (that went with Cappelli's property acquisition), they had put the project at risk. He said that if they had not extended the site plan, he would have walked away. "The project was dead."

Cappelli pointedly said the council extended a site plan that very month for JPI with no questions asked.

Oliva, who led the discussion in the July 2 Common Council meeting questioning extension of the Cappelli site plan approval was stung by his criticism, snapping, "We never gave any indication you were going to come in here and build."

Cappelli was equally blunt: "Either you want the project or not."

Councilwoman Oliva raised the issue of delays from condemnations. Cappelli took this in stride, saying, "There will be no fights with adjoining properties."

At this point, Mayor Delfino stated that Corporation Counsel Edward Dunphy had advised the council that Cappelli had inherited the site plan approval with his acquisition of the property. He asked the Council if this was not so, and was met with dead silence.

Councilman Delgado acting as peace maker suggested the council "get back to the future and thrash out the issues."

Cappelli came right to the point, saying height, the PILOT and the price of EJ Conroy Drive were the issues. He also said he was a month behind schedule for approvals and said he wanted approvals by the beginning of September.

Cappelli said bluntly, "Everybody wants to slow me down."

An uproar broke out.

All six councilpersons spoke at once. Ben Boykin said "That's not correct." Other simultaneous comments by the other five could not be heard in the uproar, though Ms. Oliva said, "You're reading us improperly."

Robert Greer, conciliatory, said "There are still some feelings we will deal with in time."

Mayor Delfino assured Cappelli the Council would move. Council members then said they needed a schedule. The Mayor said he would prepare it and meet the council every night to get it done by September, if necessary.

Rita Malmud appeared to shift her position from what she told WPCNR Tuesday evening: "One issue we need to resolve is the issue of height. I don't think all you see are antennas and satellite dishes. You see a canopy of green. It's a beautiful sight when you get up there. It's easy to see why height is a selling point."

After this exchange, Christopher Stienon, a representative of Beyer, Blinder Belle, the architectural firm conducting the Council-directed study, appearing to discuss the scope of the study said his firm would produce a model showing the proposed heights of the buildings against the skyline of the downtown and said the study would be complete August 10, as well as comment on the effects of height in the downtown.

Cappelli then presented his drawings of the new facades for the City Center, and his park on EJ Conroy Drive which would consist of a large circular park and garden on the Martine Avenue side, and a similar circular park and garden in the center of Conroy drive that could convert to an ice-skating rink in winter, and a concert place in the warmer seasons.

Cappelli pointed out that the shorter the residential apartment buildings, the smaller the park would get, making another argument for maintaining the 34 story and 32 story levels of the two luxury apartment buildings. He said he was spending some $7 million in upgrading EJ Conroy Drive to a park, and including an ice-rink/amphitheater with the park costing him 3.5 to 4 million dollars.

Cappelli also reported that three of the four properties he is trying to acquire he feels have been negotiated successfully and he is still negotiating with the owner of the Fleet Bank building that very day via telephone from Europe. He is confident he can purchase all four properties: The Fleet Bank, the Linn building on Martine, the psychological center as well as the deli, bookstore and Citibank building on Main Street.

After this the Executive Session on the PILOT was convened resulting in the unanimous approval.

Speaking to WPCNR after the PILOT approval, Councilman Larry Delgado told us that the Council had resolved the issue of the PILOT and that only two other issues needed to be resolved, the height of Cappelli's two residential towers and the city estimate of the value of EJ Conroy Drive which Mr. Cappelli wishes to turn into a city park, complete with ice-skating rink. Delgado predicted a 7-0 approval by September, feeling that the council was 100% behind the project.

Cappelli reported to the council that his project absolutely had to have the 34 story and 32-story heights because his agreement with Avalon, who is partnering with him, specified that. However no written confirmation of this was presented.

Comments after the PILOT approval ranged very positive and short from each councilperson.

Robert Greer: "No one's protesting the terms that we see on this PILOT. It's fair."

Larry King said: "The only reason I voted against the Tishman Speyer deal was it had changed. If this deal stays the same way, I'm for it."

Benjamin Boykin commented: "It makes great sense for the project to move forward."

Rita Malmud added gravitas: "Based on the information given to us tonight. I don't have a problem with the PILOT."

Prior to going into Executive Session, WPCNR asked Mr. Cappelli what would happen if he did not get his approvals by the beginning of September. Cappelli laughed and said, "I'm not even going to comment on that. It's...unthinkable."

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