Village of Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery stepped over broken glass, fallen ceiling panels, dead birds and carpets of green moss Tuesday morning as he led county and federal officials on a tour of the former Beech-Nut factory.
He stopped to point out former office spaces, supply closets, a broad marble staircase that he said becomes a waterfall during rain or snowmelt.
He pulled at the large swaths of paint hanging off the walls. If he had his way, the whole thing would be torn down to the ground tomorrow.
“With the departure of Beech-Nut, we have lost 75 percent of our water budget, we have lost 75 percent of our sewer budget and we’re going to lose 10 percent of our general fund,” Avery said on Tuesday. “It’s been quite a bit of work trying to stabilize everything so there’s not a huge impact on the public.”
Since Beech-Nut left for a facility in the town of Florida more than four years ago, the hulking white factory has been nothing but a headache for Avery and a silent reminder to anyone on a downtown sidewalk of better economic times.
When the factory closed, it took 300 jobs with it. Two subsequent owners have failed to pay property taxes or deliver on promises of redevelopment, leaving Montgomery County with a $573,000 outstanding bill.
Now, the county is moving forward with foreclosure. A phase-one review of the property has determined that it will cost at least $6 million to demolish and remediate the site. A phase-two study is now beginning to better establish a cost and pinpoint areas of environmental concern.
On Tuesday, Avery toured the building with County Executive Matt Ossenfort and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, among others, in an effort to galvanize support for the project, which will almost certainly require state and federal funding.
Speaking inside the building, Ossenfort said Beech-Nut was once a symbol of “hope and pride.”
“We’re trying to turn this place into a place of hope once again,” he said. “And I believe we can do it, but it’s going to have to be a team effort.”
Both he and Gibson framed the redevelopment of the site as not just an economic issue, but a “moral issue.”
“We need to do what’s right for the people of this village, of this county,” Ossenfort said.
He said the phase-two study will be starting in the coming weeks, and he hopes to county will be able to foreclose on the property in the next few months.
Once the site is demolished and remediated, he said, it would be a prime location for new development, either commercial, residential or recreational.
The 26-acre site sits along the Mohawk River just off Thruway Exit 29 with existing access to water, sewer, gas and electricity. According to Avery, the village has a sewer plant “that can handle a city of 50,000 people.”
“The infrastructure is here,” he said. “All we need to do now is to somehow resurrect this site.”
Gibson offered his support, and said the project would likely qualify for federal brownfield remediation funding.
He’d also like to see a public-private partnership for redevelopment, he said, as well as “bipartisan” support at all levels of government.
“It’s going to take real work and a vision of a better day to get us where we need to be,” he said. “If we can get this site ready, we think it can be once again a cornerstone for tremendous economic development.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kyle Adams at 723-0811, [email protected] or @KyleRAdams on Twitter.