he hulking old Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of Erie and Church streets in Canajoharie has some extraordinary potential, according to owner John McLone.
He stood in the gutted third floor Wednesday pointing through drafty, wood-mounted windows. To the north is the Arkell Museum/Library. East lies what he calls, “a 27.3-acre future development project:” the empty Beech-Nut factory.
“It’s central to everything,” he said. “Eight thousand cars go past this place every day.”
But it’s not just location that makes the building special, it’s what it can do for the village. McLone is turning the place into temporary office space for work-from-home technology executives. He says it will attract a wave of high-paying jobs and moneyed costumers to the downtown.
“Montgomery County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state,” he said, “and the western half is much worse.”
He pointed out the average local dairy farmer is 57 years old, indicating a decrease in agriculture, “and Beech-Nut is never coming back. We need a new plan.”
It may seem overly optimistic that some office space could provide the desperately needed answer to Canajoharie’s economic problems, but McLone makes a case, at least on paper.
“Let me draw you a map,” he said, dragging a bit of scrap paper from a pile of construction materials. On the right side he drew a circle indicating the new nanotechnology center recently constructed in Albany — on the left another circle for Utica’s Griffiss technology park. In the middle he made a very small mark for Canajoharie.
“We’re right between two of the largest nanotechnology centers in Upstate New York,” he said. “Not all of these executives are going to be working in offices.”
In today’s age of high-speed Internet and high gas prices, more and more business people are working from home. Since they don’t have to make a daily commute, home can be anywhere, more than likely in a beautiful rural village like Canajoharie.
The idea has been in the works for years. McLone is an executive for IBM. He’s worked from home now for more than a decade, mainly on his historic acreage in Palatine.
“I was on with research scientists all morning,” he said, motioning toward a jumbled desk of computers set up on the third floor of his 89 Church St. property. “In between calls I can go downstairs and knock out walls.”
In his years of work he noticed a very specific need. Even work-from-home executives need to set up the occasional face-to-face meeting. He uses some rented space in Albany for his meetings, but thinks a space in Canajoharie would not only be used, but draw new residents.
The building is still in pretty rough shape, but has come a long way. McLone bought it for a song at a foreclosure auction earlier this year. The first floor is fully rented by businesses Natural Nails and Tony’s Pizzeria and a computer repair shop. The second floor is in the midst of remodeling to become three small apartments.
The third floor, the meat of his business plan, is studs, high rafters and a beautiful hardwood floor left over from the Odd Fellows.
“I want a big, open, creative space,” he said.
At the moment it takes some imagination to see the demolition site bustling with well-paid technology experts. In a year McLone said the dream will be fact.
He’s already making contact with other area business people living the virtual lifestyle, of which there are apparently quite a few.
“The point is just to send business downtown,” he said, “I paid so little for this place if I never make a nickle on it, it’s OK.”