County Executive Neuhaus Talks Economic Growth, Stewart International Airport’s Expanding Impact on Region
John Jordan | September 15, 2017
Since winning the County Executive post in the November 2013 election, former Chester Supervisor Steve Neuhaus has tackled a host of difficult issues that initially included closing significant budget gaps, stabilizing county government finances and shepherding the redevelopment of the Orange County Government Center in Goshen.
Orange County Executive Neuhaus, who is running for re-election in November, sat down recently with Real Estate In-Depth and discussed a host of pressing issues, including growth at Stewart International Airport, prospects for redeveloping the former Camp LaGuardia homeless shelter, and the future of Route 17.
Q. What is the status of attempting to redevelop the former Camp LaGuardia homeless shelter property in Blooming Grove and Chester?
Neuhaus: We have had some interest in the lower section, near the farming areas, and I think that is an easy thing to do right off the bat to cut that piece of property—about 100 to 150 acres—and sell it and put it back to farming use. That is something we can do in the foreseeable future.
The other part of it, which has a lot of old buildings that need demolition work, might need some help from the CFA (Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Consolidated Funding Application program) to help maybe do some of the demo work. Any potential purchaser has to look at the costs of the demo, the cost of the purchase of the property and if there are any possibilities of rehabilitating some of these buildings. Editor’s Note: The County Executive said the county was not ready to proceed with a CFA funding proposal this year and is focused on maintaining the property and marketing it to the right user. The county has had discussions with several water park operators that have expressed interest in the Camp LaGuardia property.
I think it is a property ripe for development and I’ve had a lot of interest in it. When I get the right user, whether it is an educational institution or a big economic development project with money and capital, I will bring that publicly to the Orange County Legislature to vote on. We are not doing a Request for Proposals at the moment. We have also been waiting for 50 acres in Blooming Grove that is currently zoned residential that hasn’t been changed to match the rest of the property that is zoned for commercial use.
Q: The redevelopment of the Government Center complex in Goshen has been going on for some time. Can you tell us if it is close to being completed?
Neuhaus: We expect to get the keys on October 1st. I am giving my budget address there on or around October 1st to the County Legislature. It is beautiful and almost ready to go. Across the hall from us right now (at the County Executive’s temporary offices at 40 Matthews St. in Goshen) we are conducting a meeting to discuss how we will be securing the building. The only thing different, besides the building looking new inside, will be that we will have very strict security as opposed to how it was in the past. You are not walking in and out of there freely. When you come in, you will go through a metal detector. If you have a bag, it will go through one of those scanning machines…
Beginning in October we are going to be rolling departments into the new building. I see IT (Information Technology) and security going first, as well as the District Attorney, probably the County Executive and other departments. The courts will move in around the holidays, because they have a break. We fully expect the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and everybody to be fully functional by the end of this year or by early next year. We will be relocating out of leased space, which will save us a lot on leasing costs.
Q: With Amy’s Kitchen, LEGOLAND New York and other developments in the pipeline in Orange County, along with the impending opening next year of the Resorts World Catskills casino in Sullivan County, is there a need to upgrade Route 17?
Neuhaus: Right now there is a Request for Proposals out for high-speed tolls at Harriman (exit 131) and add three lanes in certain areas between Harriman and Monticello… High speed tolls are going to do a lot because you and I could put six lanes either way and you will have six lanes of traffic if you do not have high-speed tolls. Every month I drive to Virginia Beach, VA on Friday and I come back late Sunday night around 10:30 p.m. and there is traffic backed up. You put that high-speed toll in there (at Harriman) it is going to make a major difference overnight. Is it going to solve all of the problems? No, but the good thing is when I talk to the governor and others in Albany, I don’t say, “If you build this they will come.” They are here, so build it. Editor’s Note: The County Executive also stated that if the LEGOLAND New York project in Goshen is approved, the developer has promised to spend approximately $40 million on a new and improved Exit 125 that will lead traffic directly into the theme park.
Q: How important are the recent developments, including the introduction of Norwegian Airlines flights to select European locations and the highly successful second Annual New York Air Show to the future of Stewart International Airport in New Windsor?
Neuhaus: Ed Harrison, the general manager at Stewart International Airport, and I are close friends…The New York Air Show started this (turnaround). The air show proved we could bring a lot of people to this airport. Then you have the parking lot that has been improved and expanded at the airport to facilitate it… The biggest problem we had with Norwegian Airlines was when we got in a logjam with them about five months ago when they said they would come here but wondered where exactly Orange County was? They said they would bring their passengers here in the middle of Upstate New York, but wondered how they would get their passengers to New York City, which is where they want to go. Ed Harrison told me the deal was in trouble. We brought in Ed and Coach USA (which is relocating its corporate headquarters to Chester) and they signed a contract. Now Coach USA is doing phenomenal. They said if you give us the people, we will give you the buses…
The only thing that has been international about Stewart, except for the past two months, has been cargo and the military—those were the only international flights. Right after Norwegian announced they were coming to Stewart, Jet Blue (which maintains daily flights to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, FL) changed their flight status here. Editor’s Note: The County Executive explained that Jet Blue has coordinated its flight schedule to accommodate Norwegian passengers traveling from Europe, who wish to connect with their flights to Florida. He also stressed the growing cargo operations at Stewart and its importance to the Orange County economy.
Q: For years, first with National Express and then with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as the operator at Stewart International Airport, there was always the promise that the airport would be a major economic engine for the region. Do you think that finally that time is at hand?
Neuhaus: I think that National Express was an English-based company whose focus was to bring their revenues back there. With the Port Authority we have to fight for some crumbs here, but we have some people that are seeing the benefit of investing here. It helps the Port Authority to do this. It relieves the traffic congestion at the big three (airports). We have brought Port Authority officials to the air shows and to the ribbon cuttings, such as Norwegian Airlines, and they see the excitement. Legoland, which I believe will be approved, will bring about 1.5 million visitors a year, a third of which will be international—many flying with Norwegian. You and I can fly to Edinburgh, Scotland, a seven-hour flight and then take a three-hour train and we will be in Downtown London. You can’t beat that for a low-cost flight…