Counties continue work on proposed business park

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton and Montgomery counties are still learning about their proposed regional business park on Route 30A, although it was first discussed publicly in 2010 and years earlier in private.

Economic development officials from both counties support creation of the park. It could be built on just under 300 acres of town of Mohawk farmland in Montgomery County. The site would be south of and adjacent to the Johnstown Industrial Park off Route 30A in Fulton County. Land would be annexed into the city of Johnstown to receive water and sewer services.

The site would be shared by both counties trying to bring companies into the regional business park.

Area officials have been talking about a business park to serve both counties on town of Mohawk land for some time, first referring to the piece of land as the “Oceans 11” site. That name was included in internal documents written by economic development officials from 2007-2009.

Five years later, the idea is gathering steam again, as Fulton County and the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency on July 25 put out requests for proposals to engineering firms and surveyors to do some baseline work on the proposed site. Proposals are due Aug. 20.

“Those were smaller studies just to get pricing,” Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said last week.

Fulton County’s 2014 capital plan includes $70,000 to prepare the regional business park as a shovel-ready site.

Stead said the counties are trying to learn through the RFP process if it is feasible to still do the regional business park. He said the evaluations will include several aspects of the project, including possible rail service and a topography evaluation.

Fulton County supervisors last October set aside funding to go toward engineering and design, as well as land acquisition. The project would include funding for a railroad study.

“I’m quite optimistic about [the park],” said Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Rick Argotsinger. “I think there’s a good possibility we can land a major corporation here.”

Andrew Santillo, communications specialist in the office of Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, said Ossenfort is reserving public comment on the proposed regional business park until after a private meeting he will attend Tuesday. Ossenfort will be attending a meeting of a few officials from Fulton and Montgomery counties, as well as the city of Johnstown and the town of Mohawk, Tuesday at the Fort Johnstown Annex in Johnstown.

The city and town have been unable to agree on a revenue-sharing plan for the park.

When talks broke off in early 2011, both municipalities were considering a 55 percent-45 percent split in revenue, with the larger share going to Johnstown. The duration of the agreement appeared to be a major sticking point, however. Johnstown wanted the agreement in place for 40 years, but Mohawk wanted a longer term.

Ken Rose, Montgomery County Business Development Center chief executive officer, said the RFPs currently being sought through the two counties “lays the foundation” for future work the two counties do on the project.

“It’s going to look at the feasibility of the rail,” Rose said. “There’s some environmental issues. It’s a start.”

Officials have looked at the possibility of restarting rail service on a stretch of the abandoned FJ&G Railroad bed between Fonda and Johnstown to benefit the economic development project.

Ideas for the regional business park have been renewed especially since a two-day visit last September to both counties by international site selector Michael Mullis of Memphis, Tenn. The consultant offered various suggestions to local economic development and government officials, including the importance of rail service to economic development. Mullis said over 70 percent of companies contacting him want rail service.

Fulton County legislators have also supported studying how to get water to the regional business park.

Environmental Design Partnership’s SMART Waters report done by Fulton County government determined the city of Johnstown’s water system does not have excess water capacity. This lack of excess capacity affects the county’s desire to prepare the regional business park as a shovel-ready site.

Fulton County is considering a $110,000 capital project for 2014 involving construction of a new water line along Harrison Street to connect the Gloversville water system with the city of Johnstown water system. The project would allow Gloversville to supply additional water to Johnstown.

Johnstown Mayor Michael Julius, who will likely attend Tuesday’s meeting, is pro-regional business park.

“I would like it to be a go,” he said. “We need work. Let’s face it, if we build an industrial park, there will be jobs.”

Officials from Fulton and Montgomery counties are also looking to the regional business park for jobs, especially after the state Gaming Commission on Thursday rejected a private developer’s proposal for a new casino in Montgomery County.

Julius said the business park project still hinges on striking the “right deal” that will benefit both his city and the town of Mohawk. He said he’s not only in favor of the business park, but has no problem putting industry back at the city-owned former Karg Bros. tannery site in his city.

“It’s not only getting people back to work, it’s tax dollars,” the mayor said.

Mohawk Supervisor Ed Bishop couldn’t be reached last week.

Local officials still point to the usefulness of the area tour by site selector Mullis late last summer. Argotsinger said Mullis indicated it is imperative that the area have a “certified site” like the bi-county regional park.

Fulton County Center for Regional Growth President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Reese, who told his board in March he planned to leave his position by September, said much groundwork has been laid for discussions about the regional business park since it was first discussed four or five years ago. He’s more optimistic now the park will finally come to fruition than he was in 2009 or 2010.

“Yes, I am,” Reese replied. “I sense there are people in the decision-making that want to move this project forward.”

Mullis got local officials to believe in the project once again, he said.

“I think people heard him,” Reese said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com