LeRay town Supervisor Ronald C. Taylor speaks the truth.
In the town of LeRay, and throughout much of Jefferson County, there’s no slowing down in terms of residential and commercial development. In the past 20 years, LeRay has gone from a small town outside of Fort Drum to an epicenter for living, shopping, dining and entertainment.
“Well, there’s no going back now. The only way to go is forward,” Mr. Taylor said.
The question now is: Is it enough?
If you ask local developers, economic development entities and their partnering organizations, the answer is no. Not only in LeRay, but throughout the north country.
“In May, we determined the housing vacancy outside of Fort Drum was still below 1 percent,” said Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization. “It hasn’t moved much. I think it was around 0.7 percent availability for rental housing. That is with virtually all of the soldiers home, plus we are down about 1,000 soldiers from January first.”
The target vacancy rate for a healthy market is between 5 and 7 percent. What’s tough in determining what the needs of the market is that the population is in a constant state of flux.
“September is what will really give us a good benchmark,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “In September, before the kids go back to school, is when the Army likes to do all of their moving around. We will know more about our situation in September. But for now, it’s tight. It’s a very tight market.”
Mr. McLaughlin lauded developers such as COR Development, Morgan Development, Norstar Development USA and Clover Construction for their plans of adding more than 1,000 rental units to the market, but he notes that it’s the availability that’s important.
“With those existing projects in the works, plus a project in Sackets Harbor, another in the works on Route 37 and on Route 3, all of those will alleviate the problem,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “But until then, until they’re finished, we’ll continue to see a gap between demand and supply.”
In both Mr. McLaughlin’s and Mr. Taylor’s minds, the relationship between real estate development and filling the housing void is directly correlated to economic development in the area.
In 2011, Fort Drum had an estimated economic impact of more than $1.6 billion, the largest since the 2008 fiscal year. The economic impact study was based on Fort Drum employing 19,987 soldiers and 4,614 civilian workers. Payroll in the 2011 fiscal year was $1,012,895,645 for soldiers and $204,183,368 for Fort Drum-employed civilians.
“From my perspective, we have gone a long way in terms of meeting the needs of soldiers,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Do I think there is potential? I sure do. We not only have to be attractive to soldiers, we want to be much more attractive to companies looking to come here.”
Mr McLaughlin said that the population of Fort Drum changes drastically in two- to three-year periods. However, companies want to know that their employees’ needs will always be met for their business to be successful.
“Companies that are looking to open here want to see that there is a full set of services here,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “They want to make sure they have a reason to come here, bring business here and be successful here. But I do think there is some opportunity to improve that.”
Specifically, in terms of commercial opportunities, Mr. McLaughlin sees a niche of services catered toward single soldiers that isn’t being met.
“You’ve got almost 8,500 junior enlisted and non-commissioned officers who are single soldiers and live, mainly, in the barracks on post. I think that market needs attention. Having more youthful, entertainment opportunities is definitely something worthwhile.”
Several developers have entered the Jefferson County market with hopes of both commercial and real estate development. Helping to fill the void in housing as well as grow the retail and commercial sector is a major temptation for the developers who find appropriate funding to do both. One of them is COR Development Co., Fayetteville.
In early June 2004, COR Development Co. announced plans to build three big box retail stores in what would become Watertown’s Towne Center Plaza.
In the eight years since, COR has brought businesses such as Target, Kohl’s, Panera Breads, Bed, Bath and Beyond, PetCo and ULTA Beauty into the Watertown retail market. In July 2011, COR presented a site plan to the Watertown Planning Board for its newest residential development, called Beaver Meadows Apartments.
“We were approached by local development entities that knew we owned the property and they asked if we’d be interested in developing residential to help with the lack of housing in the area,” Steven F. Aiello, president of COR, said.
The Beaver Meadows project was eventually given the greenlight and COR is now building the 296 unit, $38 million project behind Target.
Looking toward the Beaver Meadows development from the Target plaza, it doesn’t look like much, a few pieces of equipment and a construction trailer. Walking a few hundred feet inside the security gate and the scope of the project takes shape. Over a graduated decline, a flurry of construction vehicles are digging spaces for footers and leveling pads for what will be the majority of Beaver Meadows housing.
“This site is spectacular, it really is. We will do really well here,” Mr. Aiello said.
According to Mr. Aiello and COR partner and Lan-co Companies Inc. President Paul Joynt, who is overseeing the work done on-site, 283,000 yards of dirt had to be moved from the site for building to begin. That dirt was moved in less than six weeks.
“We are committed to this market and we see a lot of growth and potential here,” Mr. Aiello said. “We originally came here because we were told by Kohl’s that they wanted to enter this market. We built for them and the rest followed.”
Mr. Aiello estimates that COR has produced more than 1,000 jobs in the area and has invested more than $80 million. He said that there is one more 50,000-square-foot pad available for retail development on COR property to the west of Target.
“The biggest challenge [between commercial and residential development] is that with commercial you’re looking at 50 different tenants with various needs,” Mr. Aiello said. “But with residential, you’re looking at hundreds of people, dozens of families, all with their own unique needs that they want met.”
Mr. Aiello said that the first units for Beaver Meadows will be available in the fall, with new buildings being completed, and subsequently opened, over the next two years.
Clover Construction Management Inc., a firm based in the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville, is also no stranger to the north country, having spent the majority of the past five years consistently building, or planning, housing in the LeRay area.
In 2007, Clover Construction introduced the first plans for the Eagle Ridge Village project. Five years later, construction is entering phase five, which is the construction of approximately 80 more townhouses to the village. The overall project along Route 342 in the town of LeRay encompasses more than 600 townhouses that have up to four bedrooms.
In May, Clover announced plans to drop commercial space from the plans for phase five, opting for more residential space instead.
“Having commercial property to solicit was definitely an interest for us,” Clover’s Chief Operating Officer Gary J. Clunie said. “We had originally introduced space along Route 342 and talked with local businesses like banks, pizza parlors, even a Subway restaurant. They all expressed interest, but we never got any further than a few phone calls.”
Kyle R. Hayes is associate magazine editor for NNY Business. Contact him at email@example.com or 661-2381.