UTICA — An Air Force base.
A golf course.
For the area’s business parks, their origins vary dramatically, but they share a common goal: to attract business by offering shovel-ready sites with development-friendly zoning.
“It’s a very common way of developing attractive sites to attract companies to communities, and it’s been developing over the last 50 years,” said Brian McMahon, New York State Economic Development Council executive director. “They take many forms and shapes and sizes, for sure.”
The Mohawk Valley has numerous business parks offering space for everything from retail to medical offices to high-tech manufacturing. And while they vary in occupancy, local officials say the business park model is worth investing in.
“It’s important for the region to have an array of sites that meet the requirements of businesses that are looking to expand or locate here,” said Steve DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE. “Site selection decisions are made for a number of reasons, but you never get a look if you don’t have sites that are ready to go.”
Even when businesses do choose to move into a shovel-ready park, they can run into barriers.
In Frankfort’s 200-acre Route 5S Business Park, an $18 million U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved meat processing plant that would have created 65 full-time jobs was denied by a vote of the town council in August. It would have been the park’s first tenant.
In Canastota, the Wanderers’ Rest Humane Association — a nonprofit animal shelter — wanted to move into one of three empty buildings in the Canastota Business Park in order to expand its services, but was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals in October.
Reaping the benefits
When the parks do find success, the businesses in the surrounding area benefit, McMahon said.
“To the extent that the individual park is viable and is active, and is attracting businesses to those parks, then obviously the employees with those businesses will shop and buy cars and eat at restaurants in those downtown areas,” he said.
Just ask Julie Williams.
Spressos Coffeehouse, the Griffiss Business & Technology Park café that she manages, employs 10 people. The bulk of the café’s business comes from the park’s pool of about 5,800 employees.
“Without that, we would be sunk,” she said.
The café that started in downtown Rome opened its second location at the Oneida Savings Center building in Griffiss in 2007. Four years later, the café closed its downtown shop because business at Griffiss was better.
“It’s always growing up here,” she said. “We get a lot of regulars.”
Also standing to benefit from successful parks are the taxpayers.
Page 2 of 3 - Griffiss, which brought in zero taxes as a military base, today generates about $4.1 million in combined property taxes and payments in lieu of taxes annually, DiMeo said.
In New Hartford, about 125 acres of land that used to produce $5,000 a year in taxes will generate hundreds of thousands of tax dollars when two PILOT agreements run out in 2023, said Larry Adler, the site’s developer.
The Hartford Financial Services Group will pay $280,000 in payments in lieu of taxes in 2014 while the Hampton Inn and Suites will pay about $95,000, Adler said. Adler’s company, The New Hartford Office Group, will pay about $17,500 in taxes on the park’s 80 acres of developable land, he said.
New Hartford Councilman Donald Backman said he wants to see the park succeed, but he has his doubts because “business tends to follow good times and bad times, and I haven’t seen real good times lately in New Hartford.”
Backman said the park should be used to attract high-paying jobs, which is why he objected when the Town Board voted to rezone the park to allow for retail development in 2012.
“That changes the flavor, and quite frankly, we’ve got enough retail in New Hartford,” he said.
In the beginning …
Business parks came about because communities wanted to entice industrial development in places other than downtown, McMahon said.
“If you go back 100 years or more, most of the manufacturing that occurred in communities was located pretty close to downtown,” he said.
In Utica, the former Utica College golf course was annexed by the city and turned into the Utica Business Park in the late-1980s because businesses such as Xerox and Lockheed Martin were looking to come into the area, said Jack Spaeth, Utica Industrial Development Agency executive director.
“There was a big push by some of these companies to establish themselves in Utica, but there just wasn’t space,” he said.
A lot of the big manufacturers came and went, and the park today is populated by a variety of medical offices as well as Indium Corp., Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield and the Holiday Inn.
“It’s changed a lot since I’ve been here,” said Steven Fossaceca, business manager for Cooperative Magnetic Imaging, which opened in the park in 1989 and now employs 45 people at five locations.
The change is a reflection of the Mohawk Valley’s shift toward medical service industries as a major employer, said Brian Thomas, commissioner of Urban and Economic Development for the city of Utica.
Thinking long term
In Rome, the 3,500 acres at the Griffiss business park dwarfs all others in the state with the exception of PARC in Plattsburgh — both are former Air Force bases.
Over the last two decades, about $495 million in public and private dollars have been invested into transforming Griffiss into an economic force, said DiMeo, who has headed the redevelopment effort since the base’s closure in 1995.
Page 3 of 3 - Rebuilding Griffiss has taught DiMeo a few things about developing a business park — for one, it’s a task that takes “fortitude, patience and perseverance,” he said.
As EDGE continues to work with SUNYIT, SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the state on preparing the 420-acre parcel in Marcy for nanotechnology manufacturers — under a partnership forged this year — DiMeo said the planning concepts are the same as they were with Griffiss.
The state and its partners are poised to make a possible total investment of $45 billion in the chip fabrication site in Marcy over the next decade and are hoping for three plants with 5,000 direct jobs.
“You have to think long-term and think of the logical sequence of what it takes to secure all the necessary approvals, have good strong planning foundation in place, and securing the investment necessary to position a piece of property to be a cornerstone for the regional economy,” he said.