SCHOHARIE — For sale or lease: One flood-damaged jail complex. Seller is motivated, but the prospective buyer must present a vision, not just money.
Schoharie County is seeking proposals for its former public safety complex in the village of Schoharie, 127 months after Tropical Storm Irene unleashed epic floods that left much of the facility unusable.
The buyer and/or occupants will need to make repairs, and might also want to take precautionary measures to limit damage in any future floods. But the property has potential — the buildings are just 30 years old, total 80,000 square feet and sit on 6.7 acres.
“They did do some cleanup post-flood,” said Julie Pacatte, executive director of the Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corp., which is leading the marketing effort.
“Some of the ground floor of the two-story administrative office building is essentially gutted. The upper floor is in great shape. It’s as though folks were working there yesterday.”
The jail itself is a masonry block building, and withstood the floods.
SEEC earlier this month issued a request for proposals for the site. There’s no specified asking price, and Pacatte herself doesn’t know what minimum price the county would accept. There’s also no required format or use for the revitalized building.
Mixed-use seems ideal, she said, but what the county, village and SEEC fundamentally want is job creation and stimulation of the area economy.
The criteria for choosing the winning proposal(s) in random order are the bidder’s offered price; short- and long-term vision for the property; ability to foster economic growth in the county; and financial ability to make all this happen.
Schoharie County is officially part of the five-county Albany-Schenectady-Troy Metropolitan Statistical Area. While many of its residents who commute do work in the four large Capital Region counties that make up the rest of the MSA, Schoharie County is very different from them — sparsely populated and heavily rural.
For other purposes, Schoharie County is grouped in the Mohawk Valley or Southern Tier, though it is well removed from both the Mohawk River and the state’s southern border.
Schoharie County is even the northeasternmost county covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission.
The sunny way to look at all this is that Schoharie County can use nearby economies as a springboard for its own economic development.
SEEC says professional or technology tenants would be ideal, to mesh with the economies of surrounding regions such as Tech Valley in the Capital Region.
“We’re just 26 minutes away from the Capital Region clusters,” Pacatte said.
For these reasons, the facility at 157 Depot Lane is being marketed as STEAM 157, Pacatte said — Science Technology Engineering Agriculture & Math.
How that fits into a vacant former jail and office building with two acres of compartmentalized floor space remains to be seen.
Pacatte said flood gates, pumps, mechanical systems placed on the second floor and other architectural measures could reduce the threat from the Schoharie Creek, which flows past just 100 yards away, usually placid but occasionally a swollen torrent.
The jailhouse itself has extensive plumbing, with toilet and sink hookups in each cell, Pacatte said. The cells themselves could be removed, or they could be retained and used as lockers for something like regional independent food processing for the heavily agricultural region, she added. There’s also a striking two-story mezzanine with natural light that would be an ideal common space.
Early inquiries seem to be trending toward rental more than purchase, Pacatte said.
There are a few constraints. By accepting federal disaster relief funds to build a new public safety facility on higher ground in Howes Cave, the county rendered itself ineligible to reuse the site, Pacatte said. But private-sector investors could.
The county is prepared to provide lease or sale incentives based on quantifiable community benefits for investment and job creation at the site.
SEEC is a nonprofit economic development entity established in 2019 by the private sector. The county is one of its closest partners but it is independent.
Pacatte said SEEC’s efforts have continued through the pandemic but the economy has proved resilient.
“The small business community is extraordinary,” she said. “Our villages really have a grass-roots effort on the main street.”
With people staying closer to home during the pandemic, and with e-commerce sales being taxed at place of residence, sales tax revenue improved sharply. State data show a year-over-year increase of 5% in 2020 and 17% in 2021, some of the latter likely due to inflation.
Other state and federal data are a mixed bag:
Schoharie County unemployment in December was 2.9%, the lowest recorded there in a third of a century. November and January jobless rates were 33-year lows for those months.
Schoharie County lost a greater percentage of its population (9.3%) than another state in New York between the 2010 and 2020 census counts, some of it likely due to Irene’s victims moving away.
Median household income is significantly lower in Schoharie County than in neighboring Albany County, but significantly higher than in neighboring Montgomery County.
A smaller percentage of Schoharie County’s working-age population is employed than in both Albany and Montgomery counties and those who do work have a longer commute time on average.
Occupancy tax revenue was the highest ever in 2021, Pacatte said, “and our real estate transactions were off the charts, particularly in the southern part of the county.”
Looking forward, SEEC currently has three main points of focus, Pacatte said: main street development, industrial recruitment and expansion of high-speed internet access.
The village main streets countywide have their charm and have people working to promote them.
With stimulus funding and a consultant’s advice, SEEC has identified key parts of the Mohawk Valley and Capital Region economies, unmet needs in those economies and ways Schoharie County could try to fill those gaps.
MIDTEL has extended high-speed internet to large swaths of the county, Pacatte said, but “we certainly have gaps.”
SEEC has looked at how other communities across the country have overcome the so-called digital divide that limits prospects for remote work and economic development, she said, and it continues to undertake efforts at home.
The county announced $250,000 in funding to help businesses adopt digital platforms and within five days had three dozen applications totaling more than the total pot available. The county is now considering additional funding for this purpose.
The newest effort was launched just this past week: a request for proposals for installation of a $100,000 public WiFi hub on Main Street in the village of Schoharie — a two-minute walk from the former county jail.
Those who want to submit proposals for the former Schoharie County public safety complex must participate in a walk-through April 1 or 19.
Deadline for proposals is April 29. Selection will be made June 17.