Corporate park plan at Watertown airport gains momentum

Local government leaders have mulled launching a corporate business park at the Watertown International Airport near Dexter since 2006, to be located on 45 acres of land owned by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency east of the airport’s taxiway.

Now, after years of inaction, they hope to start work in earnest by purchasing additional property and developing a business plan.

Under a tentative proposal, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, Jefferson County and the town of Hounsfield will each pitch in $10,000 to hire David L. Mosher of Mosher Business Advisors Corp., a consultant who would develop a strategic business plan for the corporate park over a four-month period. In addition, the JCIDA seeks to purchase more land from adjacent property owners to enlarge the size of the park to about 100 acres.

The town of Hounsfield approved its $10,000 share for the plan in October, reserving the funding in its 2013 budget. JCIDA will vote on the measure Feb. 7 and the Board of Legislators will vote Feb. 12 if its Finance and Rules Committee recommends the proposal today.

Mr. Mosher, who has worked for the JCIDA, county and town on past projects, said the strategic plan would answer fundamental questions, including where the park should be located, how many businesses will be established there and the best way to market the property to attract prospective tenants.

“I’m viewing this as a job creation plan about how we get jobs here,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

If the plan to hire Mr. Mosher is approved, an ad hoc committee with officials from the JCIDA, Jefferson County and Hounsfield will be formed to collaborate on the multi-year project, said JCIDA CEO Donald C. Alexander.

“If we start this project, it needs to acquire our full attention,” he said. “Hiring Dave Mosher to do this is a way to get the ball down the road much further than if it were just a piecemeal approach. This would be an enormous step in the right direction.”

Some important preliminary steps needed to develop the corporate business park were accomplished in 2012. The town of Hounsfield completed work in December on Water District 5, which runs along Route 12F to provide access to the airport and includes stretches of Foster Park Road, Route 180 and Route 3. In addition, the JCIDA hired Bernier, Carr & Associates to conduct a feasibility study, which was completed in December, that examined the best way to develop the land at the airport.

But there is still a laundry list of work needed to establish the corporate park: environmental studies, creation of a sewer district, installation of water and sewer infrastructure and access roads linking to businesses. Mr. Alexander said before any of those steps can be taken, though, the agency will need to acquire more land from property owners. By enlarging the footprint of the proposed park, the project will become more affordable because the area will have space for more businesses.

“We want to be able to spread the costs over an additional amount of acreage, and we need a minimum footprint of 100 acres,” he said. “Assuming each business needs five acres, we could spread the costs out by establishing 20 businesses on 100 acres of land.”

Mr. Alexander said the multimillion-dollar project will also need plenty of funding sources. By applying for funding together, the three entities involved in the project should have an advantage.

“Working on this concurrently will be an enormous advantage because we’re going to need some serious financing,” he said. “Our applications for funding will be much stronger than if we worked individually.”

The proposed corporate park would be a boon for Hounsfield, Supervisor Timothy W. Scee said, by increasing its property tax base and creating jobs.

“This partnership will enhance the town’s chances on funding opportunities for additional infrastructure,” he added, “and a sewer district will be the next piece of the puzzle. Creating jobs was an important concern for the board and spin-off jobs will be a part of it.”

-Ted Booker, Watertown Daily Times staff writer