Residents of Canajoharie are again being asked their ideas for redevelopment of the former Beech-Nut baby food factory. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was at a crowded meeting Tuesday night.
Canajoharie off Exit 29 of the New York State Thruway could be taking one step closer to transformation.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort spoke before a packed Canajoharie Village Hall Tuesday, asking residents to stay involved in shaping the future of the 27-acre Beech-Nut site.
“We want to hear from you. Now is your opportunity. You have the next month to let us know what you think would be viable, what you think is a good idea on the site, and then we can sit there and go through them as a team, and try to do what we can to try to incorporate them into the larger development of the site,” said Ossenfort.
In March, the county released its Community Redevelopment Vision, a report that breaks down the site’s assets and lays out a long-term vision for the property. In 2017, residents began providing ideas as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative.
Ossenfort says the county now has a more complete vision of potential uses at the site.
“We’re starting to hone in on some general ideas, even down to where on the site would be a proper recreational space or civic space, or where would some light manufacturing be appropriate. Where would something that involves tractor trailers be appropriate. So, yeah, we’ve been able to hone in somewhat specifics, but we want to open it up enough to not really hinder others’ ideas,” said Ossenfort.
The site, which is now owned by the county, has seen around $8 million in grant funding go toward its redevelopment – the largest of which is a $6 million Restore NY grant for demolition and remediation work.
Now, the county and village have issued a Request for Expressions of Interest, or RFEI.
Jane Rice, Pricipical and Director of Planning with Environmental Design & Research, which is partnering with the county and village on the project, said the RFEI is for anyone interested in using a portion of the site.
“If you’re a single person and you think it would be a great idea to open up a sewing shop? And you think it would be a great idea to be located in the village of Canajoharie – send in that expression of interest. Nothing is too small and nothing is too large. There is no guarantee at the end of this, we just want to hear from everybody and see what we can get out of it, and then decide how best to move forward,” said Rice.
Following the RFEI process, a formal RFP for redevelopment is expected to be released next year.
Rice, who moved from New York City to nearby Palatine, sees great potential in the site. She’d like to see a future project utilize the Mohawk River and Canajoharie Creek, which flows between buildings on the Beech-Nut property.
“But the idea of capturing that and activating that for public access and use is kind of exciting,” said Rice. “And right now, when we look at the site, at least I know I see a lot of hardscape, concrete, buildings. And I think to myself, does the whole thing need to be hardscape? Can we green it up?”
The three main goals for the site’s transformation include maximizing redevelopment while keeping connections to the village and the surrounding community, attracting new businesses and residents, and celebrating the area’s history, its past industries, and the Erie Canal.
The site has been empty since the Beech-Nut factory closed in 2011 after the company moved to a new location about 20 miles away. After it was sold to a private owner, the factory site fell into disrepair. Nothing was done until the county took ownership last year.
Canajoharie Village Mayor Francis Avery spoke to those in the crowd who may be growing impatient.
“We know we have one chance to get it right. And I know it seems like it’s moving glacially slow. I quite agree with you. But we have to work within the system. And we are trying to do this correctly,” said Avery.