Plans take shape for corporate park at Watertown airport

Preliminary land studies and blueprints for a business park at Watertown International Airport are expected to be done by this fall, moving the project a step closer to reality.

With planning efforts well underway, land could be ready by next year for the first business to move into the proposed park, said Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp.

Much of the property needed to launch the park, 125 acres east of the airport’s taxiway, has been bought by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, Mr. Alexander said. He said the agency’s goal of acquiring 200 acres soon could be reached. The agency has signed purchase orders to buy 15 additional acres. It also hopes to acquire two more parcels, owned by Jefferson County and a private landowner, to add 50 acres.

“We’re well underway on getting things done with respect to the layout of the property,” Mr. Alexander said. “We’re going to try to have as much of this done as we can in the fall time frame so that we can begin to identify where (financial) assistance can come from.”

At minimum, the project is expected to cost $3 million to $4 million. Steps needed to develop the park include the installation of access roads and sewer infrastructure. The agency plans to collaborate with the county, which owns the airport, and the town of Hounsfield, to develop those plans. Last year, the three entities pitched in a total of $30,000 to hire a consultant, David L. Mosher, who completed a business plan for the park. The 17-page report sets a goal of creating 400 jobs at the park in the next five to seven years.

The JCIDA, meanwhile, has hired three engineering firms in the past year to complete preliminary planning efforts, Mr. Alexander said. Environmental consulting firm B. Laing Associates, Northport, was hired in the spring to study how building on the property could affect wildlife and wetlands. The firm, which will finish its study in the fall, is expected to be paid about $10,000.

Fourth Coast Inc., Clayton, has been hired to study potential environmental hazards on parcels of property purchased by the agency. Preliminary blueprints of the park have been developed by Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown. Mr. Alexander could not disclose Friday how much the agency has paid those firms.

Mr. Alexander said he hopes the agency will acquire about 200 acres before the final layout of the park is developed. That would be enough room for 40 businesses if they took up 5 acres each. Adequate space for businesses is needed to offset the cost of building infrastructure for the park.

“The cost to develop these sites is pretty expensive, so you have to amortize that over a fairly large potential area,” he said. “I’ve targeted about 200 acres to get under control in a rectangular fashion, so we can plan roads.”

The agency may be forced to plan the park with much less than 200 acres, though, because additional property might not be available for purchase, Mr. Alexander said. That’s because land sought by the agency cannot be bought until the county resolves its own separate land dilemma. The county, in an attempt to buy land to expand its runway, has started an eminent domain process to forcibly acquire the land from private citizens. Residents have appealed the county’s decision, and the issue will be resolved in courts.

“The property we want to buy will be influenced by whatever the outcome of the eminent domain process is,” Mr. Alexander said. But “it could last a year or two more. We might have to move forward with the land we have.”

The agency may have to move fast. Last February, it announced that a local cargo shipping company was highly interested in locating next to the airport runway at the proposed park. That undisclosed company is still interested, Mr. Alexander said.

If the company needed to move into the park next year, he said, “we’d find a way to get that done,” he said. “Our property would abut the airport, and the company would have access to a taxiway directly on the airport property. It would be a great advantage to a company that wants to ship by air.”

Not all land at the proposed park will be contiguous, Mr. Alexander said. In addition to its 125 acres east of the airport, the agency bought an 11.2-acre parcel last week for $165,000 from William Evans; that parcel borders Route 12F to the northwest of the airport.

“That land will ultimately be used for development at the park, and we think we have someone interested in that property,” he said.

It will be up to the town of Hounsfield to develop sewer infrastructure along Route 12F that is needed for the site. To fund a feasibility study for that plan, the town has applied for a $30,000 state grant through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, Supervisor Timothy W. Scee said. The town is applying for funding again after the state rejected its application last year.

“The study would determine the costs associated with putting in a sewer line from the proposed industrial park along Route 12,” he said. “The line would either go to the sewage plant in Brownville or Dexter. We’ll then have to poll residents along the most cost-effective corridor to see what their thoughts are.”

The lack of a sewer line won’t prevent businesses from locating in the park, however, because sewage tanks could be used temporarily to provide service, according to Mr. Alexander. Sewage could be transported from the site by tanker trucks and disposed of at a municipal location.

Plans for the business park at the airport come as the agency has nearly run out of available land at the Jefferson County Corporate Park off outer Coffeen Street in the town of Watertown. Mr. Alexander said that a prospective business is highly interested in locating at the only remaining space available — about 15 acres.

“If they did take the land, they would basically be taking all that’s left in the corporate park,” he said.

He said that deal could be closed within six months.

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer