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What you need to know for 12/14/2017

Residents share vision for Beech-Nut site

Residents share vision for Beech-Nut site

Derelict property could become an asset
Residents share vision for Beech-Nut site
The Beech-Nut factory on Church Street in Canajoharie.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Right now the old Beech-Nut manufacturing facility in Canajoharie is a pile of rubble — a depressing eyesore that, as one resident put it, drags the community down. 

But it's also an asset, a prime piece of real estate in the heart of one of the Mohawk Valley's most picturesque downtowns. 

It could be something. 

The question is: What? On Wednesday night a large group of Canajoharie residents gathered at the Village Fire House to brainstorm ideas for reusing the Beech-Nut property. 

Interested in hearing what people had to say, I dropped in on the meeting to listen to people discuss their hopes and dreams for the site and the village where it's located. 

How, I wondered, might this symbol of decay and the loss of upstate manufacturing jobs be reinvented? 

To answer this question, the environmental consulting firm facilitating the meeting, the Virginia-based Skeo, broke the meeting into three smaller groups. 

The group I observed had plenty of ideas, as well as a desire to see any future development of the site complement Canajoharie's historic downtown character and sense of history. 

"There are a lot of assets to this community that we can build on," Palatine Bridge Maryellen Driscoll told me. The redeveloped property should be "economically sustainable in a way that's responsible and doesn't exploit the charm and integrity of this community." 

Driscoll is right — Canajoharie has plenty of assets to build upon, and there's no reason the Beech-Nut property can't capitalize upon that. 

Many of the ideas proposed by residents mixed business with more community-oriented uses: outlet shopping and condos, or space for local artisans to show off their talents. 

One woman liked the idea of using the Beech-Nut infrastructure to bring in another food processing plant, although she cautioned against focusing solely on one employer. 

"We need more than one employer, so we don't put all our eggs in one basket," she said.  

Other suggestions for the site: condos, apartments, a community center, job training programs, "something that showcases [the area's] agricultural roots," as one man put it. A number of people talked about the need to bring quality jobs to the county, and to help residents attain the skills they need to get hired. 

The site is big enough to accommodate a variety of businesses and organizations, and it will be interesting to see which ideas are deemed more feasible once the site is cleaned up. 

Personally, I like the idea of a mix of businesses, restaurants and housing. 

Canajoharie doesn't have a lot of entertainment options. Would something like a movie theater work on the site? Would residents support a micro-brewery, or a farm-to-table restaurant? Might the property's proximity to Canajoharie Creek and the Mohawk River attract people interested in learning about the Erie Canal and spending time in town? 

These are the kinds of questions that will be considered as the community discusses how best to re-use the site. 

For a long time, re-use seemed unlikely, largely because of the substantial cost of removing the debris and asbestos polluting the property. 

Things changed in mid-November, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Montgomery County reached a deal to clean up the site, which is estimated to cost between $6 million and $10 million. 

It's a great arrangement, and a major breakthrough in the effort to revitalize the Beech-Nut property. 

Which might explain why so many of the meeting attendees seemed so optimistic about the future, and so happy to share their ideas.

The Beech-Nut site has real potential -- a great location, near a vibrant downtown -- and I'm eager to see what becomes of it. One of the consultants said that the purpose of Wednesday's meeting was to "get a vision." 

As I listened to residents give voice to their ideas, I could see that vision starting to take shape. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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