County Executive Neuhaus Bullish on County’s Future
John Jordan | September 2016
Since winning the County Executive post in the November 2013 election, former Chester Supervisor Steve Neuhaus has tackled some difficult issues. In his first term he has successfully closed significant budget gaps, stabilized county government finances, shepherded the redevelopment of the Government Center in Goshen, which is now under construction, and has taken a very active part in economic development initiatives that have fostered economic growth and new jobs to Orange County.
Real Estate In-Depth recently sat down with County Executive Neuhaus at his offices in Goshen to learn the latest on these and other initiatives that hold such promise for Orange County.
Q: I know the project is in approvals, but what is your position on the LEGOLAND New York proposal in Goshen, and what do you think it can do for the Orange County economy if it is approved?
Neuhaus: I think the application is very strong. From day one, I have been on board with them…We brought the Goshen leadership in from day one, including Town Supervisor Doug Bloomfield, and even talked to the Village of Goshen about water and sewer. When this project took life, when it became public, it was not the first time that officials had heard about it. That being said, last Monday was a big day for Legoland, they codified the water and sewer agreement. That is real traction, because the lifeblood of any project is water and sewer…
Editor’s Note: On Aug. 9, the project cleared a major hurdle when the Village of Goshen Board of Trustees passed a resolution to provide water and sewer service to the proposed LEGOLAND New York theme park. Based on anticipated usage, LEGOLAND New York will pay the village approximately $900,000 per year once the deal is finalized.
We had talked with the Village of Goshen about it early on, but it had no value until it was actually codified. Now that it is codified, it is going to help the Village of Goshen out, which has very high sewer rates, and they have a sewage plant that can handle way more than what it takes in now. So having a big user is going to help them.
I think that it is a wonderful attraction and will have a regional impact. Just like the casino (in Sullivan County) will have a regional impact, it (LEGOLAND New York) will have a host of ancillary benefits. They are going to do business with a lot of local firms around here. People from all around the region will have jobs there, just like they have in the construction phase of the casino going on right now. So I am very happy about it. We expect anywhere from 1.3 million to 2.5 million people coming to Legoland (each year). Also, the type of people the park will attract. I am a father with young kids. The people that will come are good people. They are family people…
Editor’s Note: Neuhaus, who visited Legoland’s Florida resort earlier this summer, praised the resort’s relationships with local school districts and the educational programs that he says will benefit Orange County youth if the project is given the green light to break ground.
I am sold on it. I know I am overdoing it a bit on this, but I feel that strongly about the project.
Q: One of the major issues the project has is its potential impact on traffic on Route 17. Do you think the traffic impact can be mitigated?
Neuhaus: The only obstacle they need to overcome at this point now is traffic. I knew that from day one. Some people cited water and sewer, but I knew the village had issues and their issues were they needed more customers… I drove home from Virginia last night from my military base and at 10 p.m. I was coming up the New York State Thruway from Route 17 in New Jersey and the traffic was backed up from the Tappan Zee Bridge all the way up to Harriman. The state and the federal government need to prepare for future growth. When the State of New York gets criticized for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Start-Up New York and only creating a few hundred jobs—now you have a project that is going to bring 1,500 jobs to my county. Sexy jobs—engineering jobs and hospitality jobs, they should build (additional infrastructure) to accommodate these projects.
I have been very active with pushing the State DOT and the governor to fast track the Harriman (Exit 130 off of Route 17 by Woodbury Common) project. Harriman is now scheduled to start as a Design-Build project in 2018. But, they should not be just redesigning the interchange; they should also be designing a high-speed toll. That being said, they also need to fix the other backup (further south).
Q: Can you provide an update on the progress on the redevelopment of the Orange County Government Center in Goshen?
Neuhaus: We are moving full speed ahead on it. The skin is being put on the outside (of the buildings). The good thing now about the Government Center is you can actually see some major work going on. That doesn’t mean nothing happened previously. We had to put in about 131 pilings in the new section. In September steel will be delivered and we will be erecting steel shortly thereafter.
Right now there is tangible evidence of major work because they are now putting up the steel and putting up the inside of the exterior wall. So in the last few weeks there are people calling saying, “My God, this thing is actually happening.”
Q: When are you looking to complete the project and move government operations back to the Government Center?
Neuhaus: We are looking to be in there in the fall of next year, so just over a year from now. We think that we will be all moved in by the end of next year because you will have to do the move in phases so that you are bringing offices in there and not disrupting services.
The good thing about that (move back to the Government Center) is that I am not going to be leasing all these offices. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual leases that we will not be doing anymore.
Q: Can you provide any update on the planned redevelopment of the Camp LaGuardia property?
Neuhaus: Camp LaGuarida is now fully in our possession. John McCarey, director of real property, and Planning Commissioner David Church are working and looking at the future of that property. The way I envision it is to partition some of it out. There is a lower 100-plus acres that is mainly wetlands or could revert back to farming. I have already had some farmers approach me on purchasing it. I wouldn’t have a problem doing an RFP and selling it, putting it back on the tax rolls and letting farmers farm it.
There are other sections. I want to cut out a piece to provide access to the Heritage Trail, which is a no-brainer—we need more parking for people to enjoy it. I am physically constructing expansions of the Heritage Trail this year. We are going to start this month on the Harriman section. (He added that work on a section of the Heritage Trail between Middletown and Goshen will begin next year).
Right now what we are looking at is cleaning the property up first. Then, we are planning to have the (developable portion) on a brokerage tour this fall with the Orange County Partnership. So right now I have to clean it, because it still looks like a scene from the “Walking Dead.”
Q: On the developable portion of the property, are you looking to do an RFP or do you have another strategy in mind?
Neuhaus: I would do an RFP and have developers come in. In Chester, we had a company V. Paulius out of New Jersey that bought a big piece of property, subdivided it out and sold a couple of sections each year. I don’t want to get into the construction business. That being said, I know the Orange County IDA has a great shovel-ready program that we worked on together and the only people eligible are governments—local and county. So I could also see the county putting some money in to get some of the infrastructure in place to make the property more valuable, but you could very easily have that property on the market within the next six to nine months.
Q: I understand that you are looking to also sell some property surrounding the Valley View Nursing Home. Where does that initiative stand at the moment?
Neuhaus: We have about 80 acres around the Valley View Nursing Home. Everyone is concerned that if we sell it and it becomes a competitor (to Valley View) that would make things worse? One of the easiest, no-brainer projects to put there is a senior housing project. So you and your wife can live there. God forbid you need some assisted care in the future, you get admitted into Valley View so it helps Valley View keep its patient level high and your wife can walk right through the campus connecting it and see you. That is a way to grow old gracefully together. That should be a no-brainer and we are going to be marketing that through an RFP.
Q: When will you be issuing an RFP on the Valley View parcel?
Neuhaus: I am going to announce it at the end of September in my State of the County address.
Editor’s Note: Neuhaus said he will tell the Orange County Legislature that the time is now to do something with the property. He said he is amenable to an outright sale or a long-term lease.
I have had the biggest and the best in the business approach me on everything already. The biggest health care companies have all come up with different types of plans as well as senior housing companies.