Several years ago, I drove out to Canajoharie to hear residents share their vision for the crumbling Beech-Nut factory site off Exit 29 of the New York State Thruway.
Since 2010, when Beech-Nut shifted its operations to the nearby town of Florida, the once-bustling buildings have steadily deteriorated, and the place is now a major eyesore.
At the brainstorming session I attended, residents understood that redeveloping the site would be a major challenge, but also expressed hope for its future. Outlet shopping and condos, restaurants and manufacturing — these were among the ideas proposed for the sprawling property.
Not one person mentioned commercial cannabis.
Maybe it wasn’t anything anyone was thinking about, as it’s been less than a month since New York legalized recreational marijuana.
Or perhaps it seemed too radical, too fringe.
Whatever the case, marijuana might just be the thing to revitalize a decrepit piece of property that’s languished for over a decade.
The Montgomery County Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee has advanced a deal to permit commercial cannabis producers E29 Labs to explore redeveloping a sprawling industrial campus once known for manufacturing baby food.
It’s an unlikely fit for the old Beech-Nut site, but also a good one, with intriguing upside and exciting growth prospects.
For years, the Beech-Nut site has been regarded as something of a white elephant, but I’ve always felt it had enormous potential, given its prime location near a well-traveled stretch of interstate, in a walkable and welcoming downtown.
The key, of course, is finding the right developer — something that’s always easier said than done.
Is E29 Labs the right developer?
Right now, it’s difficult to know.
Projects always sound good during the honeymoon phase, which is what we’re in now.
But there’s always a chance that plans outlined with great enthusiasm will fall short of expectations, or that once-promising partnerships will unravel.
I’ve seen it happen plenty of times, and I’ve learned to greet lofty announcements with a measure of skepticism.
That said, I’m genuinely excited about what E29 Labs is proposing.
It could be a game-changer for Montgomery County, and also for Canajoharie.
It would transform an increasingly ugly industrial landscape into a green and tidy hub of production, creating jobs — up to 500, according to officials — and drawing tourists.
It would also be a catalyst for development, spurring other businesses to move to the site.
And it would put the Beech-Nut property back on the tax rolls, generating much-needed revenue.
The Beech-Nut site has been a drain on the community for far too long.
The E29 proposal is an opportunity to change that.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.