Residents of Canajoharie gathered last night to brainstorm ideas about possible re-use of the former Beech-Nut factory site.
The Canajoharie village firehouse was packed Wednesday night with local residents eager to share their ideas for the future of the factory complex that anchored the community for more than a century.
Baby food manufacturer Beech-Nut was founded in Canajoharie but closed the plant and moved to the nearby town of Florida in 2011. The 22-acre property was then sold but was stripped. Local taxes went unpaid for years. It remains dilapidated and partially demolished.
Recently, Montgomery County was able to foreclose on the property and begin steps toward re-use.
The meeting follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granting approval to the county to remove asbestos contamination from the property.
Village Mayor Francis Avery called the approval in early November a “good omen.”
“Once, even if just the eastern site is cleaned up, now you have a clean, developable site that the business community would be quite interested in,” said Avery.
A consulting firm gathered ideas from residents on behalf of EPA. The crowd was split up into three separate groups and people were asked questions like: What would they like to see on the property? What are challenges in the community? What are the strengths?
Andrew Santillo is a spokesperson for Montgomery County.
“This is an opportunity to hear really what the community sees as what’s missing or what would help complement the downtown of Canajoharie, which is a beautiful downtown to begin with. And we’re hoping that we can only boost the downtown and make it even more welcoming or more inviting to people who might passing by,” said Santillo.
Canajoharie is located in the Mohawk Valley, halfway between Utica and Albany on the New York State Thruway. In recent years, notably in 2006, the village has been impacted by severe flooding. Many residents have worked to rally the community before.
Ginny Ogden, a reverend at a local church, was part of one group. She said when she moved to Canajoharie with her husband years ago, it felt like home.
“They talk to you like you know everybody, where you know where the streets are. It’s just that feel. It’s small town America.”
Ogden was also part of a community action group formed a couple years ago to plan next steps for the factory property.
“Diversity, we definitely wanted something where there was a banquet hall, with a commercial kitchen where we could have weddings, where we could have community gatherings. A multi-purpose room,” said Ogden.
Trevor Summerfield, who grew up in Canajoharie but moved away after he graduated from high school in 2002, came back last month.
He said he enjoys the local outdoor recreation opportunities and small businesses.
“I really hope this Beech-Nut site here, we can really capitalize on it, and also take advantage of the opportunity it will give our community to re-invest in infrastructure,” said Summerfield.
All the options were on the table Wednesday night. Some want to see the site leveled to start fresh; others want to see if there are parts of the remaining structures worth keeping.
There was also talk of MASS MoCA’s success in North Adams — where a thriving arts community has grown out of the shuttered Sprague factory over the last 20 years.
Others questioned brainstorming at all when there was no way to pay for any projects right now.
The county has received around $800,000 in grant funding to prepare the site for re-development.
Canajoharie residents can submit ideas online at: beechnutideas.skeo.com