HNA Palisades Conference Center Update

Since 2018, the impending sale of the HNA Palisades Conference Center on Route 9W has been of great concern because of the potentially dramatic change it could have on the semi-rural feel of our hamlet. Built in 1989 by IBM as a secluded and luxurious state-of-the-art executive training center, this use proved harmonious to Palisades for three decades. The 106-acre property was sold in 2016 to the HNA Group, a Chinese airline and hospitality conglomerate known for acquiring $150 billion worth of property worldwide. But in 2018, the HNA Group, in a financial crisis, put the idyllic property on the market. In 2019, Vasco Ventures, a Brooklyn-based real estate investment business, was set to purchase the property for $40 million, but the deal fell through the day before closing.

In August 2020, in an attempt to retain some control over the sale, Supervisor Teresa Kenny and the Town Board put a plan into motion to ensure that, if a zoning change is requested, the use would be appropriate for the Town and the community. Last fall the Town hired outside counsel Michael Zarin of Zarin & Steinmetz, and the planning firm AKRF, to circulate a Request For Expression of Interest (RFEI) to potential prospects. Concerned community members have attended community meetings, spoken at Town Board meetings and even conducted a nationwide search in hopes of contacting investors or developers interested in using the property for its zoned purpose - i.e. Hotel/Resort/Wellness and film studios. The town has an interest in retaining the $1.8 million tax revenue the property currently generates, but is not against granting zoning changes to allow for appropriate development. Based on current interest, the most financially viable plans include the addition of some kind of residential use.

On February 8, a site visit was held and attended by approximately thirty developers, architects, real estate agents and investors. By the March 15 deadline, the Town received nine proposals. After the initial review, the Town reached out to each applicant for financial information and additional questions about their plans. At some point in May, the community will have the opportunity to learn about the finalists. Watch for notification. Whatever buyers the Town vets, it will be HNA Group that chooses a buyer in the end. Since its announcement of bankruptcy in January, no one knows how the complex financial restructuring of the con- glomerate might affect the sale. Also, COVID-19 has challenged even the bravest of investors, especially in the hospitality world. The fact remains that a sale is inevitable. We’ve been fortunate to have this gem in our community for decades. When IBM purchased the property in the 1980s and hired renowned architect Romaldo Giurgola to design the building, he spent five years thoughtfully creating this incredible facility. During the process, IBM representatives met with the community to share their vision. It is our hope that the future buyer of this special property will work as gracefully with the community as IBM did.