CE Neuhaus Says County Will Issue RFP For Development at Camp LaGuardia

John Jordan | January 2020

Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus looks over a map of the Camp LaGuardia property during a tour of the nearly 260-acre complex in the spring of 2016. FILE PHOTO

CHESTER—Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus told a group of construction and organized labor leaders earlier this month that the county will put out a Request for Proposals for future development at the county-owned former Camp LaGuardia property in Chester and Blooming Grove, NY in coming weeks.

Neuhaus, who appeared at the Jan. 14th meeting of the Hudson Valley Construction Industry Partnership luncheon at Glenmere Mansion in Chester, told Real Estate In-Depth that he remains hopeful that Great Wolf Lodge Resorts Inc. will develop a resort facility in Orange County and possibly on the Camp LaGuardia property.

Back in late August 2018, County Executive Neuhaus reported that the hospitality firm was considering a “handful” of potential sites in Orange County, including the former Camp LaGuardia men’s homeless shelter complex in Blooming Grove and Chester, for a Great Wolf Lodge. The resort was to include a large hotel as well as an expansive indoor and outdoor water park.

However, since then no deal has materialized. County Executive Neuhaus noted that there has been a change in ownership at the company and that he held talks in December and had further discussions again with the new leadership on Jan. 14.

Neuhaus said the company’s new leadership has given Great Wolf “the green light to move forward on projects that were on the (back) burner, including ours.”

He said there are a lot of sites in Orange County that make sense for the company and one in particular that has sparked interest is the former Camp LaGuardia site. Other potential properties that could work for Great Wolf is the Loop project in Newburgh, that had been proposed for a large retail complex a few years ago, as well as the former Nepera Chemical property in Harriman, he noted.

County Executive Neuhaus, who said he would like Great Wolf Lodge to locate at the former Camp LaGuardia site, did tell the newspaper that he is not “married” to the idea that the resort owner develop its project there.

In that vein, he said that Orange County will issue a Request for Proposals for the Camp LaGuardia property in February.

“I have a lot of people who have already contacted me that want to do different uses there,” Neuhaus said. He added that the RFP will be structured in a manner where an investor/developer could select a portion of the property to acquire or could choose to purchase the entire site.

The county’s Department of Public Works did some site clearing and cleanup work at the Camp LaGuardia property in the fall, leaving intact some of the vacant but structurally sound brick buildings.

Orange County took control once again of the nearly 260-acre property in 2016 after a proposal by Scarsdale-based Mountco Construction and Development failed to move forward.

Orange County acquired the property from the City of New York for approximately $8.5 million in 2007. Mountco bested several other bidders for the right to redevelop Camp LaGuardia.

The property was established as a shelter for New York City’s homeless in 1934, the facility was built in 1918 and served as a correctional facility for women until 1934 when it was transferred to the city’s Welfare Department and named “Camp Greycourt.” The camp was renamed Camp LaGuardia in 1935. The purpose of the camp was to provide temporary relief for the unemployed. Prior to World War II and through the late 1950s, the camp included a 191-acre farm, which provided food for the residents and to which up to 150 residents were assigned to work. In its heyday, the camp housed more than 1,000 homeless men from New York City.

The closure of Camp LaGuardia was announced in November 2006 by New York City officials as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s five-year plan to reduce homelessness in New York City.

Great Wolf Resorts, Inc. currently has 18 locations across North America with the closest location being the Great Wolf Lodge Pocono Mountains, which opened in 2005.

If the Great Wolf project moves forward at Camp LaGuardia, the venture would add a third major attraction along Route 17 in Orange County that already features the popular Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley and the $500-million LEGOLAND New York theme park under construction in Goshen. LEGOLAND New York is scheduled to open in July.

Further up Route 17 is the more than $1-billion Resorts World Catskills Casino in Sullivan County and the adjoining Kartrite Hotel & Indoor Water Park.

LEGOLAND New York and Great Wolf have one thing in common—the investment firm Blackstone. In October, an affiliate of Blackstone acquired a 65% controlling interest in Great Wolf Resorts, Inc. As part of the transaction, Blackstone and Great Wolf owner Centerbridge will form a new $2.9-billion joint venture to own the Chicago-based resort firm.

Blackstone was also involved earlier this year in taking Merlin Entertainment, parent company of Lego, private. Lego’s founding family and Blackstone deal to take Merlin private was valued at $7.5 billion, according to published reports.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth