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Eight Years After Acquisition From Pfizer, The Nearly 100-year-old, Two Million Square-foot Campus Remains Nearly 60 Percent Unoccupied
The mostly vacant former Pearl River Pfizer campus, known as the Hudson Valley iCampus, is looking for a Hail Mary but it needs the Town of Orangetown to cooperate in changing its zoning in order to build a hotel on site.
Since it bought the campus from Pfizer in 2015, the IRG Center at 401 North Middletown Road, has been unable to reinvent itself through new tenancies. The campus has undergone name changes – it was for a time known as the New York Center For Innovation and subsequently the Hudson Valley iCampus. There has been a change in real estate leadership but the nearly 100-year-old, two million square-foot campus remains nearly 60 percent unoccupied. For almost 100 years, the Pfizer campus was a pharmaceutical hub providing industry expertise and jobs.
Over the last eight years, the campus has been marketed to other pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Owned by a large REIT, realtors for the campus have tried to draw tenants from the film industry, cannabis, food production, small, light manufacturing to the many existing buildings that make up the storied site. At times, the owners also floated the idea of building residential housing on site, with the hopes of perking up the commuter rail line that sits adjacent to the campus.
Now, the iCampus has come to the Town of Orangetown seeking two text amendments that would allow a chain hotel, the Hilton Home2 Suites (an all-suite, extended stay hotel), and a stand-alone fitness center to site projects in existing buildings. In their plea, they have told the town that the market for big pharma is saturated in the Hudson Valley, and that competition regionally is making leasing the iCampus all but impossible.
It is in the interest of the town to have an occupied campus but zone changes through text amendments are not limited to the site alone.
The campus, with 38 buildings and 4,200 parking space, is almost entirely zoned LI (Light Industrial) district, with a smaller section along North Middletown Road zoned LO (Laboratory/Office) district. Neither district allows for hotels or stand-alone fitness clubs.
Details of the plan were submitted to the Orangetown Town Board in a Planning Analysis by Northport, NY-based Cleary Consulting on September 12. Any zone change would apply across all LI districts in Orangetown, though only on properties of 150 acres or larger.
“For the Hudson Valley iCampus to remain competitive, the addition of new and previously unanticipated uses has become necessary,” the report states. “Since purchasing the Site from Pfizer in 2015, the Petitioner has been aggressively re-tenanting the buildings on the campus, but despite the Petitioner’s best efforts, an unsustainable portion of the Site remains vacant. This effort has proven to be challenging due to the region-wide evolution of land use trends, which was dramatically amplified by the pandemic.”
The report also cites the plethora of options available to pharmaceutical and bio-research companies in the Hudson Valley, and the extreme competition for biotech tenants. Rockland County is at a disadvantage because the county lacks a good public transit system.
The iCampus believes the target audience for the hotel would be workers and visitors to the existing campus and the general public, and that the lower Hudson Valley has traditionally been underserved by hotel properties. Orangetown has four hotels, according to the applicant’s planner: The Pearl River Hilton, the Marriott in Orangeburg, the Doubletree in Nanuet, and the Armoni in Orangeburg. The hotel at the HNA Palisades Center on Route 9W is now shuttered though if and when the property is redeveloped, there are plans to revive the 100-room hotel. There are several other hotels in nearby Clarkstown.
Hotels and conference centers are permitted in several other zones in Orangetown including the CS (Community Shopping), CC (Retail/Commerical), CO (Commerial Office), LO (Lab/Office) and OP (Office Park) zones, either by Special Permit or as-of-right. The tiny portion of the iCampus that sits in the LO District does not have any buildings or structures.
The request to allow hotels in the LO Zone is not unique. In 2017, the HNA Center on Route 9W in Palisades, also situated in an LO zone, sought the assistance of the Town of Orangetown to legalize its hotel operation, not through a text amendment allowing hotel use in the LO zone, but by arranging to have the property re-zoned OP (Office Park), which allowed for hotel use. The HNA Center closed during the pandemic and never re-opened. The hotel on the property sits idle and degraded.
Tarrytown-based Regeneron is under contract to acquire the former Avon Campus in Suffern. The pharma campus contains approximately 235,000 square feet on 11 acres and based on an application filed with the Rockland County IDA (Industrial Development Agency), the property would be used for research and development laboratories and for cold storage. The estimated purchase price for the Avon Campus is $39 Million.
The Novartis Campus in Suffern is in the process of being demolished and replaced with 1.2 million square feet of warehouses on its 162-acre campus.
According to the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, there are more than 80 pharma properties in seven counties that make up the New York BioHud Valley.