Exclusive: Mid-Hudson Hopes to Create ‘Shovel Ready’ Program To Spur New Business Investment, Jobs in Region

John Jordan | September 3, 2015

From left, Orange County Partnership President Maureen Halahan, Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Orange County IDA Associate Executive Director Laurie Villasuso. FILE PHOTO
From left, Orange County Partnership President Maureen Halahan, Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Orange County IDA Associate Executive Director Laurie Villasuso. FILE PHOTO

TARRYTOWN—As part of the state’s Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process and particularly Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI), the members of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council have agreed in principle to propose sites throughout the region that could qualify for state funding as “shovel-ready” sites.

The initiative is seen as critical to securing new business investment in the region since the entire region is facing a shortage of shovel-ready sites for development.

The Upstate Revitalization Initiative was announced in January by Gov. Cuomo with seven upstate counties including the Mid-Hudson region, competing for one of three $500-million upstate revitalization awards. In addition to the Mid-Hudson, the Capital Region, Mohawk Valley, Central New York, North Country, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes are also in competition for the lucrative state funding awards.

Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership, told Real Estate In-Depth that Orange County, like many areas in the Mid-Hudson region, is a “victim of its own success” and is now suffering from a lack of available shovel-ready sites for businesses that wish to relocate or establish operations here. She warned that properties without the necessary local approvals to build will require in some cases significant additional time in the pre-development phase and will therefore prompt many businesses to choose sites elsewhere.

Halahan said that as a member of the Mid-Hudson Regional Council, she works with “some of the most talented and seasoned economic development professionals in the region. Collectively, we have recognized that our food and beverage industry, our tourism-destination industry and our high-tech-biopharma sectors are driving growth in our region. However, we are a victim of our success because our portfolio of shovel-ready sites is getting very lean in both Orange County and the region.”

While Orange County has already established a shovel-ready incentive program through the Orange County Industrial Development Agency (see story on page 16) the Mid-Hudson Regional Council proposal would include sites throughout the region that would be eligible for state incentive funding. These shovel-ready sites would spur investment and job creation in some of the region’s emerging business clusters, such as food and beverage, data centers, biotech-pharmaceutical, finance and advanced manufacturing.

The initiative began when local broker and colleague Robert Scherreik of Cushman & Wakefield Pyramid Brokerage Company, came to the Orange County Partnership with the concept.  The Partnership took the lead and reached out to every economic development official in the region.  Everyone was immediately on-board.  Assigned with the task of identifying and submitting prospective shovel-ready sites, the list began to take form.

Halahan said those potential sites include the repurposing of closed state facilities and campuses, adaptive reuse candidates in urban centers as well as brownfield sites that already feature all the necessary infrastructure to support future development, but lack the required municipal and environmental approvals that would make them attractive for investment.

“Collectively we have identified sites throughout the region and we are opening up a dialogue to try and be creative in having a program that can be funded,” Halahan said. “We are hoping that if we are selected for one of the URI awards that some priority could be in urban planning and urban revitalization.”

Halahan said that if approved, a third party consultant would be retained to assist the Council in the development and administration of the program. She added that the total average cost per site would be $500,000 or $5 million a year if 10 sites throughout the region were selected.

Some of the possible underutilized or shuttered state facility sites that could be under consideration for shovel-ready funding would include the former Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, the Letchworth Village property in Haverstraw and the former Middletown Psychiatric Center in Middletown, a portion of which is being converted to The Fei Tian College, a fine arts college that will also include student dormitories.

Other possible sites include: the SUNY Sullivan Commerce Park in the Town of Fallsburg in Sullivan County; the Linao property (former IBM West Complex in East Fishkill, in Dutchess County; the Tech City property in Kingston in Ulster County, portions of the Novartis property in Suffern in Rockland County, the Dupont-Stauffer site in Newburgh, a 130 acre-parcel in the Village of Woodbury, and the Liberty/Radcliff site in Sullivan County, to name a few.

Halahan pointed to the success that has been achieved at the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility. The complex, owned by an LDC formed by the Town of Warwick, has attracted a number of users in the relatively short time it has been on the market. The property, the first to be eligible for shovel-ready assistance via a program administered by the Orange County Industrial Development Agency, utilized funding to build necessary infrastructure improvements to make the property marketable for potential users.

She warned that the stakes are already high and that site-selectors have told the Orange County Partnership in the past that the lack of shovel-ready sites is hurting the Mid-Hudson region. Halahan noted that most companies require just a six-month window from site selection to breaking ground on their project.

Halahan confided that in 2015, 11 major corporate attractions and two significant expansions were lost in Orange County due to the lack of shovel-ready sites here. The requirements that sought opportunities elsewhere, amounted to nearly one million square feet of new development and hundreds of jobs.

She said the time is now to secure more shovel-ready sites so that the region can be truly competitive in retaining and attracting new investment to the Mid-Hudson and is very pleased that her counterparts at the Mid-Hudson Regional Council are working collaboratively and not parochially to improve business conditions in the region.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth