When Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed the Tryon Juvenile Detention Facility in 2011, Fulton County and the surrounding area lost 325 jobs and an estimated $15,000,000 in wages spent in the local economy, according to an estimate from the county planning department.
The Gloversville Water Dept. and the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Plant also lost a combined $170,000 in annual revenue, they said.
But while similar youth detention facilities across the state were shuttered and remained closed, officials in Fulton County had something different in mind for the Tryon facility. They asked the state to turn the property over to them so they could convert it into a business park.
“Fulton County government took the initiative,” said James Mraz, Executive Director of the FUlton County Industrial Development Agency. “After a couple years worth of back and forth this entire facility was deeded over to the county’s industrial development agency.”
The county, through a combination of grants and matching funds, has so far put over $4 million into the site. They built a ring access road throughout the 515-acre shovel-ready site, known as the Tryon Technology Park, as well as a 300,000-gallon water tower and pump station to improve water pressure and supply.
Their plan is to tear down nearly all of the many structures that were part of the detention facility, save for one 15,000-square-foot facility they hope to convert into a regional business training and incubator center. That facility, said Mraz, will help new businesses get off the ground and provide space for them to try out ideas.
Mraz said county officials felt the site would make a good business park because of its proximity to New York’s interstate system and the presence of existing utility hookups.
“There’s already gas, electric, water and sewer service here,” said Mraz. “When you’re developing shovel-ready sites that’s usually the biggest cost, is getting that infrastructure, which is integral to developing the site. It was already here.”
He also touted the county’s access to markets.
“Because of our proximity to interstates, this county, a four-hour drive in any direction has access 70 million potential customers, and that’s huge,” said Mraz, pointing to retail giant Wal-Mart opening a food distribution center in the Johnstown industrial park as evidence of Fulton County’s advantageous location.
“They did it for a reason,” he said. “Strategically it was centrally located to a geographic area that they wanted to serve and could serve given the interstate system here. Our proximity to markets is as good if not better than most other areas.”
Mraz also touted the relative remoteness of Tryon Technology Park as an asset.
“It’s a very peaceful campus setting. So part of our marketing strategy is we’re saying ‘come here, take a 180 degree turn away from a high-cost, high-stress business life,’” he said.
“We think it’s a positive thing. And that’s how we’re trying to market it.”
Selling prospective businesses on the property is something Mraz, who doubles as the county’s planning director, said is a daily task for him and other officials.
“That’s a work task that we’re on every day,” said Mraz. “This business is very competitive.”
Mraz said the county is courting a prospect now that’s looking at sites all over the northeast.
“So every time we’re competing against other great sites, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” he said. “I can’t say when we’re going to have [tenants]; all I can say is every day we’re trying.”
The Tryon Tech Park already has one tenant, Vireo Health of New York, which is one of the few companies allowed to grow and manufacture medical cannabis for use by patients in New York.
Vireo’s scientific director Eric Greenbaum said on a recent tour of the facility that the company is one of just five allowed to operate in the state, and while regulations in New York are more stringent than in other states, he sees a bright future for the industry in the state.
Greenbaum said New York’s marijuana program is a “really medical model” as opposed to more recreation-based models in Colorado and California, which could actually greatly help the medical cannabis industry nationwide to serve patients as opposed to casual users.
“[New York’s] is a model that in my opinion will serve as the template for a federal regulatory framework similar to what the FDA would do,” said Greenbaum. “Compared to California, where the medical model is basically a proxy for adult and recreational use...the fact that we don’t sell [marijuana bud], we only sell carefully formulated medicines...it’s just indicative of the approach that New York is taking.”
Vireo provides customers with carefully formulated medicines in three different forms, said Greenbaum: oil (for vaporizing), a capsule or an oral solution. The company has five brands that run the gamut from having very high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations and very low cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations, and vice versa.
Cannabidiol is a compound that is useful for seizure disorders as well as pain, said Greenbaum. It’s also been shown to mitigate the sometimes dysphoric effects of THC, which can include paranoia and anxiousness.
THC is the chemical produced by the glands of a marijuana plant that is most responsible for the euphoric effect – or high – found in users.
Greenbaum said the company settled at Tryon Technology Park as part of the licensing agreement it struck with the state, but that he and Vireo CEO Kyle Kingsley are native New Yorkers who are passionate about jumpstarting local economies wherever they can in the state.
“We knew that the state was really focused on repurposing this facility; we knew there was a commitment to building up the Tryon Technology Park to be a center for tech development as well as job growth for this region,” said Greenbaum.
And while the state’s regulation of medical cannabis is a bit strict now, said Greenbaum, there’s reason to believe it will broaden in the near future.
“It’s a pretty limited patient market right now; there’s been some discussion with the legislators and regulators to expand some of the qualifying patient conditions to include chronic pain,” said Greenbaum. “Chronic pain is one of the indications for which we have the most evidence of efficacy with medical cannabis. So we’re hoping that that goes through. We think it will be really good for the people of New York.”
Greenbaum said Vireo is “optimistic” the regulations will be expanded within the next quarter.
“Not that we’ll be able to implement it, but we’re optimistic we’ll see an announcement within the next 90 days,” said Greenbaum. Relaxing them, he said, would “open up access a lot, and will be good for growth and patients as well.”
And growth is what county officials are hoping for as well with the Tryon Technology Park. Mraz said the capital projects at the site are in their final stages, and the way in which the county has been able to repurpose what would have become an abandoned property is a unique and inspiring way to create more jobs and commerce in the area.
“It’s just going to take some time,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.