Trolley Barn back on track in Yonkers

(Original Publication: May 19, 2007)

YONKERS - The lobby of The Lofts at Metro92, with its bold colors, pod-like chairs and simple fixtures, looks fit for a swanky Manhattan hotel.

Instead, it is the lobby of a Yonkers apartment building that is digging out of a troubled past. When the building opened a few years ago, tenants were promised luxury loft space and a pool and gym. But under the former owners, they were left with a half-finished building that lacked basic amenities.

"We were miserable because ... the building wasn't done," said Jef Campion, an artist and firefighter who was the building's first tenant. "We were in a warehouse."

DW Capital Associates LLC bought the building last year and has been busy finishing renovations. The company added a laundry room, security cameras and a gym, and painted and installed carpeting. DW Capital later joined with Kohl Partners to form the real estate company Metro Partnership.

The Trolley Barn, built in 1900, was a parking and maintenance facility for trolley cars that rode along Yonkers streets until 1952. In recent years, it became a pivotal piece of the city's plans for downtown revitalization, but the project flopped as new development rose around it.

Tenants grew disgruntled as they lived without the promised laundry room or gym. Last year, a whole floor lay unfinished and less than half of the 42 apartments were occupied.

The partners who owned the building -Joseph Spiezio III, Nicholas Tarsia and Harold Cook - did little to improve conditions as they sued each other.

For tenants, the changes at the former Trolley Barn mean a return to normalcy. They are optimistic about the future of the site, and they say management has been responsive to their concerns.

The drawback has been the spike in rent. Tenants saw their rents jump by as much as $800. However, they are paying the same amount they had agreed to pay in their original leases under the former owners, who had deeply discounted the rents because of the unfinished condition.

"They're doing a lot for the building, but of course we're paying a lot now," said Haifa Bint-Kadi, a mosaic artist who lives in the building.

Bint-Kadi said Metro Partnership seemed to be supportive of the artists who occupy about a quarter of the apartments. The owners allow artists to hang their work in the building, and donated a vacant storefront on the first floor as gallery space.

Original tenants, such as Bint-Kadi and Campion, said they felt like pioneers in an up-and-coming area when they moved into the Trolley Barn. Now that they've stuck it out, they said, they hope it becomes more of a home and less of a headache. They hope the surrounding area continues to flourish.

"I honestly want to see what's happening overall in downtown Yonkers and if businesses are going to continue coming in," Campion said. "It seems like it's going to happen."

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