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Economic agency urged to focus on Bradley St. site instead of airport

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Jefferson County economic development officials will consider cooperating with Purcell Construction to create an industrial park with railroad access off outer Bradley Street at Interstate 81.

Such a move could put plans for a business park at Watertown International Airport on the back burner because of concerns about competition and a potential glut of commercial space.

Owner Mark S. Purcell and two executives from his Watertown company highlighted their plan for the 89-acre commercially zoned parcel Thursday at the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency board of directors meeting. Board members discussed how the developer’s plan for the park could complement the agency’s mission of job creation. Mr. Purcell urged the agency to consider abandoning its plan for the corporate park at the airport near Dexter, where it owns about 100 acres, to provide tax incentives and financial assistance for the Bradley Street venture.

Having too much commercial real estate for prospective businesses could be negative for both parties, Mr. Purcell argued, suggesting the JCIDA’s plan at the airport park might not be in its best interest. In the past, agency officials said they don’t believe the Watertown developer’s plan will conflict with the airport park because different businesses will be targeted.

“We disagree on whether we’re competitors, because I think we would be,” Mr. Purcell said. “To me, there is only a limited supply of businesses to compete for. I think we would have a lot of land with only a limited pool of applicants. It would be better to pool our resources together. It makes sense to pick one site to focus on, rather than to spread it out and dilute our resources. The goal is to provide jobs.”

In response, board member W. Edward Walldroff said the agency may have to re-evaluate its plan for the airport park.

“We think we’re going to have more businesses that are geared toward air traffic at our park. But you’re telling us to watch out, because those businesses will cross over?” he asked.

“I can’t imagine any retail business that you’re talking about will go into the airport park,” Mr. Purcell replied. “They’re going to want access to rail and to be off I-81.”

Industrial tenants would be served by a rail connection to the adjacent CSX line.

Mr. Purcell already has met with officials from the town of Pamelia and city of Watertown to develop water and sewer infrastructure plans at parcel. Though the land is primarily in the town, the city’s water main will have to be extended to provide municipal service.

Providing sewer service would be a line owned by the Development Authority of the North Country that crosses the site.

Shifting the conversation at the meeting, agency CEO Donald C. Alexander said the JCIDA may have to explore downsizing the scope of the airport park, devoting more of its time and resources to Mr. Purcell’s project instead.

“The reason we started exploring the airport park was because our land had become limited, but then along comes this opportunity with land that’s going to be up and running much faster than we can be,” Mr. Alexander said. “It could take us three or four years to have any sites available, but Mark is going to have sites available next year. To some extent, Mark is right (about competition), but the question will be what kind of options we have to make the airport park. Rather than investing in the whole land, maybe we decide to take it in segments.

Steps already have been taken by the agency, Jefferson County and the town of Hounsfield to plan the airport park. Consultant David L. Mosher was hired by the three entities in March for $30,000 to help develop a business plan, but it still hasn’t been finalized.

Mr. Alexander said, “It would behoove us to sit down and think about how this project fits in with our plans. No options are off the table at this point, and we talk about if it makes sense for the agency to own or lease the property. I hope this becomes an example of how private and public sectors can work together in the community.”

Christina J. Schneider, chief financial officer for Purcell, said, “I hope the goal for the agency would be to keep a full box of resources so that you can throw that at a company. If you’re not spending it at the airport, then you can invest it with us and take advantage of what we can do in the private sector.”

Board member Michelle D. Pfaff said planning the airport park should be viewed as a long-term initiative; in the near term, the agency should shift its attention to the Bradley Street project.

“We don’t even have a response back yet from Mr. Mosher on the airport park plan, which I hope we have soon,” she said. “I would assume that we’re going to need to work with (Purcell Construction) to direct businesses to land that’s available.”

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