The Schaller family — owners of the Saugerties property on which rock entrepreneur Michael Lang is planning to create an ongoing facility for mid-sized music festivals at the site of his Woodstock ’94 extravaganza — bought the Winston Farm back in the 1960s. The more than 800 acre property, with borders on Route 32 and Route 212, has been at the center of a maelstrom of speculation surrounding economic development possibilities for decades. But back when it was purchased, says family spokesperson Jeremy Schaller, 34, the 16-bedroom mansion at the center of the fields and forest was already in disrepair. The parcel was gathered together by engineer James Winston, whose Virginia-based business Winston & Company served as contractors for the Ashokan Reservoir and its dams.
“There was one other property owner between Winston and my father,” Schaller said in a phone interview this week. “The place had been neglected some and we were never able to get in there and fix the place up. Estimates to make the mansion livable again, at this point, are in the $10 million range.”
Schaller recalls first going to the Winston Farm with his extended family, known for their charcuterie and business skills as part of the renowned Schaller & Weber deli meats firm that started in the 1920s in New York’s once all-German Yorkville neighborhood (and is now based in Queens).
“It’s a very special place for us,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how something grand can happen to it.”
Schaller, who was 16 when his father handled negotiations that resulted in Lang putting on the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock Festival for another half million concertgoers, says he tries to get up to “the farm” on a weekly basis from his New York home. Often he camps out. Always, he explores…delighting in both the engineering accoutrements left by the Winstons, including a model dam similar to that used for the Ashokan, as well as the roads and extensive plumbing and electricity put in by Lang in 1994.
He notes how the size of the Winston Farm, which he says is “give or take 850 acres, has yielded a continuous stream of development ideas over the years, from a countywide dump to massive nanotechnology factories.
“We discuss each thing that comes to us as a family…There always have been, and always will be, things presented to us,” Schaller said. “We carefully examine each thing but we’re not jumping at anything unless, of course, there was some absolutely amazing offer that everyone in my family could agree upon.”
At present, Schaller added, he and the primary family members involved in all Winston Farm matters — himself, his grandmother and three of his uncles (his mother and father retired to California a few years ago and aren’t as involved anymore), are “very happy” with what’s currently being planned to start with Lang next summer.
“Everyone enjoyed working with Michael 18 years ago, and we trust him,” Schaller said. “What he has planned, as a festivals facility, would help us sustain the property. Plus it would be great for the town, and good for the property itself.”
Schaller said that the ’94 festival was important for him; he’s since worked to keep up with, and help, the music industry where he can.
“I had a great time at that concert and have stayed in touch with Michael,” he noted. “I’ve also noted how the music industry has changed so it’s much harder for bands to generate income. These summer festivals have become a good business and our property, as Lang has said, is perfect for such a use.”
Not Prime for developers
As for the maelstrom of conjecture regarding other uses for Winston Farm of late, Schaller acknowledged having spoken with an Albany-area real estate development agency, Prime Developers, “a while back.”
“That surfaced again at a very awkward time,” he added. “We’re definitely open to hearing out anything the community wants to propose to us, but the family definitely agreed that what Prime was proposing was not somewhere we wanted to go.”
Prime had said it was researching sites for GlobalFoundries, the massive computer chip manufacturer that’s opening a factory north of Albany. GlobalFoundries later denied that it had any interest in a Saugerties site.
Winston Farm was also mentioned by members of the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency as the county’s best developable property, with IDA Board President David O’Halloran suggesting several uses for it, beyond Lang’s plans (see bullet: IDA confused).
Schaller termed all such talk about his family’s property, “weird.” He also noted how other uses proposed for Winston Farm have included everything from Costcos and Home Depots to housing developments.
“It’s got to be right, it’s got to feel good for everybody in the family,” Schaller said. “This is a major decision for all of us.”
The young man added that he’s enjoyed working with Saugerties town supervisor Kelly Myers, as well as the Saugerties town board and its planners.
As for next summer’s music festival plans, Schaller said he was now waiting for Lang to finish a few next steps.
“Michael’s figuring out how to do this right,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have something set for the long term in the coming weeks. We’re planning to have music festivals there next summer.”
A few weeks back, after Michael Lang first announced his plans for a permanent facility designed to accommodate temporary rock festivals at the Winston Farm site across from the southbound New York Thruway exit in Saugerties, several new plans suddenly surfaced. Even though Saugerties supervisor Kelly Myers termed them “speculative,” the ideas started gaining traction as members of the county Industrial Development Agency started discussing them.
IDA chairman David O’Halloran even went on the record to say that negotiating over a property in private hands is “more limited in options” than trying to develop publicly-owned properties, or those actively seeking help from the county to enable a sale.
This past week, concurrent with comments by Jeremy Schaller, spokesperson for the family that owns the Winston Farm, stating that all decisions on their property would be family-made, Ulster County Executive Michael Hein himself commented on the brouhaha over development ideas that had been brewing.
“The IDA seems to have gotten confused about their role regarding economic development,” Hein said, noting that the agency’s main purview is the offering of tax relief as an incentive to businesses interested in moving to the county. “Unfortunately, they’ve become very political because of the way their board is appointed…It’s simply not responsible for the agency’s board members to be talking about the Winston Farm property.”
Similarly, Hein chided elected officials in the Ellenville for talking about development possibilities on several large private properties down there before they should have.
“These things are delicate,” Hein said. “And they are private property.”