By Daniel Axelrod
Economic development keeps humming in the mid-Hudson, more than 10 years into the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
On 2020′s eve, local economic development officials reflected on hundreds of millions of dollars of projects in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties.
Sure, the U.S. economy will stop growing, the economic development officials acknowledged. But, they added, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties have unique strengths – natural beauty, space to build on, highways and proximity to 30 million people within a three-hour drive – that’ll keep development and tourism stronger for longer.
“All these future projects are related in that they come down to a strategic location,” said Bill Fioravanti, Orange County’s economic development director. “The region has been rediscovered, over the last few years.”
Orange County especially is booming. In 2017 and 2018 alone, the Orange County Partnership, a nonprofit economic development agency, estimates it helped lure more than $914.75 million in new capital investments, while adding 2,350 jobs and 2.53 million square feet of commercial space.
For 2019, Orange County saw more than $154.21 million in new capital investments, 473 new jobs created and 772,335 square feet of new commercial space, with help from the Partnership.
“The last four years have seen the most monumental changes in the Hudson Valley since I began working in economic development 18 years ago,” said Maureen Halahan, the Partnership’s president and CEO.
Sullivan County, meanwhile, is benefiting from having room to build, said Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership, another nonprofit economic development agency.
“Rockland County is full, Dutchess County is full, Westchester County is cranking, Orange County is getting full,” Baez said. “Before, people pretty much let every project come to Orange County without backlash. Now, people are looking at every project and saying, ‘Do we want this in our community?’”
Tourism also continues to be a boon, driving a lodging explosion. In 2018 (the most recent data), Orange County saw 5 million visitors (spending $577 million), not counting Woodbury Common Premium Outlets; compared with 5.3 million ($651.53 million) in Ulster County and 4 million ($515.08 million) in Sullivan County.
A recent Times Herald-Record analysis of approved and proposed hospitality projects found that Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties’ room count (for hotels, motels, resorts, lodges and inns) could rise up to 41 percent by 2024.
That increase would add 3,110 rooms to the three counties’ current total of 7,578. Many of Orange County’s visitors are business travelers staying for development projects and local companies in light manufacturing, e-commerce, distribution and energy generation.
In Ulster County, in 2020, locals will be watching Ken Pasternak and Emily Fisher’s effort to find investors for the long-stalled $365 million Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park (629 rooms) in the Town of Shandaken.
The partners also are counting on the repair and linking of slopes at the state’s neighboring ski area, Belleayre Mountain.
Elsewhere, the following projects and initiatives will be among the most important to watch in 2020.
Legoland New York, Town of Goshen
Legoland New York is on track to open July 4, said a spokesman for the $500 million theme park, being built off Route 17′s Exit 125.
The park’s eight themed areas will include a small brick factory; Lego Friends in Heartlake City, with hip young women leading children on adventures; Knight’s Kingdom, with a Dragon Coaster; Pirate Shores; Miniland, with world landmarks built from Lego bricks; Bricktopia, with rides like a Lego carousel; Ninjago, an interactive ninja training area; and Lego City, where children can drive electric Lego race cars.
So far, the track is up for the coaster, with walls installed in the building that’ll house it. Maintenance and warehouse buildings are enclosed, steel is in the ground and walls are going up for Ninjago and Lego City, and progress is steady on a park store and Pirate Shores.
The company, which is building a new Exit 125 and widening Route 17 near the park, has installed new exit ramps and paved some of the site’s interior roads.
Plus, Legoland has repaved Harriman Drive, which the company is lobbying to rename Legoland Boulevard.
Locals remain concerned about how an already-crowded Route 17 will handle up to 3,500 additional cars per day from April to October in the park’s peak season.
On the positive side, if Legoland proves a hit, it has great economic potential and it’ll provide much-needed local tax revenues, town leaders have said.
Three-hundred-sixty of Legoland’s employees will earn between $40,000 and $100,000 annually. Then, there’s beneficial spending by the park’s operators and visitors.
One study of Legoland’s Winter Haven, Fla., property estimated it generated $1.60 in local benefits for every $1 spent on construction and operations, or nearly $1 billion of total economic activity from 2010 through 2015 alone.
Besides finishing construction, the company’s major undertakings include hiring a total of around 1,000 employees, with the next job fair planned for Jan. 11 at Kuhl’s Highland House in the Town of Wallkill.
Legoland also must stop the construction runoff issues for which the state Department of Environmental Conservation has cited the company nearly 30 times for polluting sensitive and threatened creeks and streams.
Runoff has been occurring, during nearly every rain beyond a drizzle, for well over a year. Construction runoff can have serious ripple effects, killing fish, bugs and plants, while reducing the quality of the water draining into local watersheds, environmental scientists have told the Record.
Also, the park’s 250-room hotel is now slated to open in 2021, a parking deck is no longer planned, and a date for Legoland’s future Sea Life aquarium has yet to be set, a company spokesman said.
Amy’s Kitchen, Town of Goshen
The organic, vegetarian food maker will begin major construction of its $150 million factory on Route 17M in the summer, with the first production line set to run at the end of 2021, a company spokeswoman said.
The 390,000-square-foot factory’s 680 employees will make 640,000 meals per day for the factory’s California-based owners, the Berliner family. Project engineering is underway, and water and sewage lines are about three-quarters complete.
The Science of the Soul, an Eastern spiritual movement to which the Berliners belong, is building a $30 million meeting complex, also due in 2021, next to the future food factory.
Medline Industries Inc. & Bluewater Industrial Partners LLC, Town of Montgomery
Two separate, giant warehouse projects are currently before the Town of Montgomery Planning Board. Medline, America’s largest private maker and distributor of medical supplies, wants to build the biggest warehouse in Orange County history.
The $110 million, 1.3 million-square-foot distribution center, proposed for along state Route 416, would replace Northfield, Ill.-based Medline’s distribution center in Wawayanda.
Commercial builder Bluewater’s $72 million development, code-named Project Sailfish, is thought to be for the online retailer Amazon. The 1-million-plus-square-foot warehouse is proposed for 635 International Dr.
Some locals worry about the environmental and traffic effects of adding warehouses, considering other forthcoming commercial and residential projects, while questioning whether big companies need tax breaks for incentivization.
Simone Development Companies, New Windsor
Phase one of this multi-phase project, at Breunig Road and International Boulevard, on roughly 100 acres beside New York Stewart International Airport in New Windsor, is a $17.3 million, 128-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
Construction will begin, come spring, concluding in mid-2021. Two or more future phases, currently being planned, could include medical offices, retail and Class-A office space – perhaps like a smaller version of Bronx-based builder Simone Development Companies’ Hutchinson Metro Center, a big-time development.
Orange & Sullivan counties
Route 17 third lane, from Woodbury to Liberty
The state Department of Transportation is currently reevaluating the logistics and costs of adding a third lane to Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties, Halahan said. Whether the state appropriates funding in 2020 will be a question on the mind of local leaders, like Halahan and Baez, who help lead the coalition lobbying for it.
Center for Discovery specialty hospital, Town of Thompson
The Center for Discovery, a renowned caregiver and researcher for individuals with complex developmental disabilities, is planning a $25 million project to transform the former Frontier Insurance building into a sub-acute care specialty hospital for those individuals, plus a research center and educational space.
Industrial parks, towns of Thompson & Liberty
Sullivan County leaders want to create one or more light industrial parks along Old Route 17, including on county-owned land in Thompson, and on six groupings of properties, which are owned by private landholders, between Ferndale and Harris.
Eldred Preserve, Town of Highland
The Eldred Preserve, an approximately $20 million hospitality project under construction on Route 55 in Eldred, is due in 2020. It combines three brands – The Eldred Preserve, The Bradstan Country Hotel, and The Old Homestead Restaurant – into one resort.
Monster Golf Course, Town of Thompson
This much-anticipated, much-delayed reboot of the legendary Catskills course is due in 2020. Located next to the Resorts World Catskills casino, which shares owners with the course, the project’s execution and promotion will be a symbolic indicator of how well the casino’s new private ownership structure is operating the properties.
Casino magnate K.T. Lim and Genting Malaysia recently teamed to buy out other shareholders of the gaming and entertainment complex’s parent company, Empire Resorts. Now, Lim and Genting hope to run the money-hemorrhaging company more smoothly and profitably than when it was publicly traded.
IBM Tech Cities, Town of Ulster
Ulster County has been gradually seizing parcels of the former IBM typewriter factory complex, now known as Tech City, in tax foreclosure, including a large building once operated by Bank of America.
But Tech City owner Alan Ginsberg has been trying to use the bankruptcy process to fend off foreclosure. The county, meanwhile, also is working with the Town of Ulster and the EPA to make Ginsberg, and A2 Environmental Solutions of Newburgh, clean the asbestos-contaminated site.
Ulster 2040 & New economic department, Ulster County
County Executive Pat Ryan appointed Lisa Berger as the county’s director of economic development on Sept. 9. Berger’s new, separate Economic Development Department, created in October, replaced the county’s Office of Economic Development, which fell under the Planning Department.
Crucially, Berger has been helping lead a new economic development working group, Ulster 2040, also created by Ryan, to grow the county’s economy and ensure local residents are equitably served by that growth.
“Ulster County is really focused on addressing the things that have stood in the way of our businesses expanding and being retained,” Berger said. “From housing to transportation and child care, we (county leaders) want to help businesses get the workforce they need.”
Nonprofit RUPCO’s $22.6 million Energy Square – a five-story apartment building with affordable housing – is due early next year.
Boutique hotels are planned, and actress Mary Stuart Masterson’s Stockade Works film and TV production training program continues developing a reputation.
Kingston’s continued rise will be worth watching in 2020, thanks to those and other projects and initiatives.