Montgomery County

Montgomery County markets former factory site with new website

Exit 29 Project a priority for Mohawk Valley leaders to get former Beech-Nut baby food plant site back on tax rolls
The former Beech-Nut factory on Church Street in Canajoharie is shown in this November 2017 photograph.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The former Beech-Nut factory on Church Street in Canajoharie is shown in this November 2017 photograph.

Video drone footage on the recently launched exit29project.com website provides a sweeping aerial view of what remains of the sprawling 29-acre former Beech-Nut baby food plant.

The three minute video, which includes an uplifting instrumental soundtrack, shows the old factory’s proximity to the Mohawk River, Route 5 and the New York State Thruway.

The website is a joint-venture between Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency, which split the approximately $30,000 cost of hiring Amsterdam-based Engines of Creation to design and maintain the site.

Exit29project.com lists the many attributes of the property, as well as providing a summary of its history and the federal, state and local resources being put into redeveloping the location. 

The Exit 29 Project is a priority economic development project of Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort’s administration. Ossenfort said the purpose of exit29project.com is to provide a “one-stop shopping” point of communication for both the general public as well as potential private sector developers, tenants and “end-users” interested in investing the now county-owned location.

“When you talk about all of the water and sewer capacity, all the natural gas and electricity you could need, and the proximity to the Thruway, as well as giving people the information that this is a partnership between the village, the county and even the state to some extent, and to let them know that there is a group of people ready to work with them to redevelop this site,” Ossenfort said.

The water and sewer capacity Ossenfort mentions are among the myriad of reasons redevelopment of the 29-acre site has become a priority economic development project for Montgomery County, as well as one of the reasons it’s attracted so much support from New York state. 

In economic development parlance the former Beech-Nut plant is what is known as a classic “white elephant” a major industrial site once the heart of its village’s economy, but then abandoned after its parent corporation, Hero AG of Switzerland, sold it in 2013 to Ohio-based developer Todd Clifford, who owns a company called TD Development LLC who then sold it in 2014 to Jeffrey Wendel, a business associate and executive at a demolition company.

After Beech-Nut left, the location was stripped of its valuable copper pipes, an expensive asbestos abatement was started but never completed, and the property ultimately became delinquent on millions of dollars in property taxes after Clifford and Wendel abandoned it. 

Hero AG stayed local, relocating its Beech-Nut North American headquarters to Montgomery County’s town of Florida business park. But village residents were left with a big mess to clean up and with the burden of expensive water and sewer infrastructure built specifically for Beech-Nut’s needs. 

Montgomery County foreclosed on the old plant in 2017 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to release $4 million worth of liens on the property in exchange for 50 percent of the ultimate proceeds of the sale of that location. The EPA has ordered Beech-Nut to pay for the asbestos cleanup, a matter that is still in litigation. 

Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose said the county is only obligated to “make the EPA whole” for the money it put into the site, including the cost of an environmental study, which he estimates to be about $500,000. He said the website has already brought in about six different leads from private sector companies interested in the location. 

“We’re working with these leads on an ongoing weekly basis. One part of the site could be an outright sale, another part could be a lease-purchase type situation, or just a lease. It’s really going to depend on who the interested party is, and which part of the site makes sense to them from a business standpoint,” Rose said.

“We’re talking about potentially setting up a Local Development Corporation for the project, potentially getting it out of the county’s hands,” Rose continued. “We’re still exploring that, the positives and negatives associated with that. We haven’t made a decision on that yet. It would be a special-purpose entity that would be slowly sped-up to manage that site, if we go that route.”  

Ossenfort said the deal with the EPA enabled Montgomery County to gain control of the property without having to fear the cost liability of the environmental cleanup. 

The county and the village were then able to apply for and receive a combined $6.8 million in New York state and National Grid grants to help redevelop the site.

Ossenfort said New York state economic development officials have expressed the desire to “make good” on the state’s commitment to helping the people in the village deal with the repercussions of Beech-Nut’s departure. State grant money helped Hero AG to relocate to the town of Florida, but New York also awarded $6 million to help with the Canajoharie site’s redevelopment, one of the largest grants in the history of New York’s Consolidated Funding Application process. 

Montgomery County used the grant funding to hire Binghamton-based demolition contractor Gorick in January to take down most of the remaining structures on the eastern half of the site and to do asbestos removal, at a cost of $953,000. The county hired Buffalo-based LiRo Engineers for $475,000 in July 2018 to write the bid specifications for the demolition, and Gorick came in at the best price.

“The demolition has gone extremely well and exceeded my expectations by the speed, the cleanliness and also the cost. It was significantly less than what we thought it would cost,” Ossenfort said. 

Rose said the demolition of the eastern side of the property has left several “warehouse buildings” still standing, and some private sector companies have expressed interest in either purchasing or leasing use of them. 

“Next you’ll be seeing a [Request for Proposals] coming out for asbestos abatement for the western side of the buildings. We’re in discussions with [New York’s State Historic Preservation Office] about the western [office building] side of the property. That all needs to be cleaned out before we do anything, and that has to happen whether we keep all the buildings on the western side, or demolish them,” Ossenfort said. 

One of the proposed uses for the western part of the property has been as the possible site for a consolidated town court office for the justice courts on the western end of Montgomery County. The buildings might also be used for some other form of “adaptive reuse” or leveled to free up space for other development. 

Rose said the IDA is putting up a billboard where the former “Beech-Nut” sign was on the property for about $25,000 as another tool in the marketing of the location.

Ossenfort said Montgomery County is now in the process of applying for a $1.5 million state CFA grant to dredge the Mohawk adjacent to the property and build a marina. 

Rose said updates about the Exit 29 project will be posted to Exit29project.com. 

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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