Back in 2013, Orange County purchased three buildings on Grand Street: the American Legion Building, the Masonic Lodge, and the YMCA building for college use. Then, in late 2018, SUNY Orange announced the corresponding project for these buildings: Innovation Grand Street.
The project was initially supposed to be completed in two phases. Phase one included raising money for the development of the American Legion Building and the Masonic Lodge on Grand Street. Phase two contributed to the YMCA building. The YMCA building was going to be repurposed as a trade center.
But, the future of Innovation Grand Street has descended into murky territory after SUNY Orange left the negotiation table back in May. The decision to drop the project came after members of the Orange County Legislature decided to remove one of the buildings completely from the project.
According to a press release by SUNY Orange, Innovation Grand Street was supposed to “focus upon four industry sectors and is intended to spark private investment and entrepreneurial activity in the City, create meaningful employment opportunities for local residents, rejuvenate the greater Newburgh community and connect the College’s curriculum to real-world experiences for students.”
Spearheaded by SUNY Orange President Dr. Kristine Young and other board members, the newly “refurbished” buildings would “allow for small business creation, spark economic development, and blend short-term workforce training with complementary academic opportunities.”
“SUNY Orange is deeply committed to becoming a true anchor institution in the City, one that creates opportunities for citizens to simply and easily access a college campus and engage in education specific to jobs that are already, or will soon be, available in Orange County,” said Dr. Young in the press release.
Though phase one of Innovation Grand Street had a proposed budget of over nine million dollars, a reasonable amount of money had already been raised to help cover costs. Over 1.83 million dollars were granted to the project by the Empire State Development Fund. Then, the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation and Former Senator Bill Larkin pledged to each give $200,000 to the project. Private donors exceeded over one million dollars in donations. And, the college planned to match these donations, so there was only around three million dollars left to raise.
But, minutes taken from the February 22 meeting of the Orange County Legislature’s Education and Economic Development Committee show that members of the legislature had different ideas for phase two of Innovation Grand Street. Members of the company “Go Zone Partners” were invited to pitch a new idea for the YMCA building, completely separate from the already established proposal with SUNY Orange in place.
During the meeting, L. Stephen Brescia, Chairman of the Legislatur, even stated that he had “heard this presentation before” and that it was “a great presentation.” He acknowledged that if the Orange County Legislature decided to proceed with Go Zone’s proposal, then they would need to sit down with Dr. Young and board members from SUNY Orange, who were not present during the meeting.
SUNY Orange decided to leave the project, as all three buildings were equally essential as part of the initial deal.
“I really hope that we will be able to salvage this project. I believe that it’s a project that speaks to what the community asked for [the last] 20 years,” said County Legislator Kevindaryán Luján, whose district covers Grand Street, where the project would have taken place.
It is not known if any of the grant money that the college raised for Innovation Grand Street can still be used if SUNY Orange has rescinded their participation in the project. Dr. Kristine Young did not respond for immediate requests to comment.
As all three buildings were specifically purchased by the county for college use, the Orange County Legislature would need to free themselves from the bond resolution that allowed them to buy the buildings in the first place.
SUNY Orange could still return to negotiations, but other plans are being considered by the Orange County Legislature as potential alternatives to Innovation Grant Street.
No official plans have been made, but it is possible that the Orange County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) could become involved in repurposing the buildings. However, this would be a clear conflict of interest for Chairman of the Legislature Brescia. According to the county website and the IDA’s website, he sits on the Board of Directors of the IDA. He did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
County Executive Steven Neuhaus, an original supporter of Innovation Grand Street, is open to negotiations. “County Executive Neuhaus remains supportive of the Innovation Grand Street project and is open to a variety of potential ideas for the site, including a public-private partnership. He would also re-visit speaking to SUNY Orange leadership about the original project, which would create job training and a variety of economic development opportunities for the City of Newburgh, and the County,” said County Spokesperson, Justin Rodriguez.
“I believe [Innovation Grand Street is] the way forward, for the city of Newburgh and Orange County in general,” added Luján. “I really hope that the college, the Legislature and the County Executive will find a solution that’s beneficial, and I hope to be able to continue to advocate for what is in the best interest of our community, and the college’s original decision.”