New Paltz Town Board members liked what they heard during a presentation about the proposed $75 million Wildberry Lodge indoor water park and resort.
Preliminarily proposed for the 57-acre Plesser property east of the Thruway near Paradies Lane, Wildberry Lodge would have 250 hotel rooms, an indoor water park, a 600-seat conference center, two restaurants, rock climbing, bowling, an outdoor zip line and ropes course and at least 12 tennis courts.
Developer Steve Turk said he envisions the resort as having a big connection with downtown New Paltz. He plans to have shuttle buses run from Wildberry Lodge to Historic Huguenot Street, the Main Street businesses and up to Minnewaska State Park.
“We’d be doing a disservice to our guests, local businesses and citizens of New Paltz if Wildberry Lodge were to have a ‘fortress’ or ‘private resort’ mentality,” explained Turk, who is also the owner of Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland. “Instead, our design is based on bringing our guests into New Paltz and the greater Hudson Valley region.”
The shuttle bus service is an acknowledgement of how car-conscious New Paltzians are. “There will be no need for the hotel guests to drive their own car into the village,” he said.
Rocco Tammone, chief financial officer for Rocking Horse Ranch, said he believed if Wildberry Lodge were built, it would create 750 temporary construction jobs. It would prompt $45 million in spending on construction materials, fixtures and furniture — which would likely boost the local economy.
When Wildberry gets up and running, it would create 250 permanent full-time jobs. But that number would swell to 375 employees at the height of the season.
Those jobs would range from minimum wage up to $80,000 for upper management positions, Tammone added.
Wildberry Lodge is looking for a tax break from the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency. They’re looking for a 10-year abatement period to save $6.5 million in taxes, but the resort would pay $17.2 million property taxes in that time.
Tammone estimated that the water park and resort would pay $1.5 million in sales and occupancy tax during their first year as well.
Payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, haven’t been super popular of late locally because of a proposed college housing development called Park Point New Paltz.
Supervisor Susan Zimet noted that what Wildberry Lodge is offering in terms of its benefit blows Wilmorite’s PILOT request out of the water. Park Point is likely to create eight or so jobs to Wildberry’s 250 to 375.
“This is a real taxpaying project,” Zimet said.
Councilman Kevin Barry also liked what he saw.
“I think this is going to be a great opportunity for this community. I’m sure there will be hurdles — there are always hurdles in New Paltz. But I really feel that this is the right kind of project for this community,” Barry said.
The Plesser property has been the site of several development proposals that New Paltz has come out en masse to protest — specifically the Wal-Mart and the Crossroads at New Paltz mixed-use projects.
Supervisor Zimet also said she thought Wildberry Lodge was a fit. “We’ve been fighting malls on this property for a very long time,” she said. “This is the beginning, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
Town Board members plan to conduct a coordinated review of the project with the New Paltz Town Planning Board.
Currently, the lot is zoned partially light industrial and partially in the highway business zoning. While the highway business zoning does allow hotels, nothing like what Wildberry Lodge would be is described in the zoning definitions.
Potentially, the town could have to create a new zoning for the lot or create a special zoning overlay district.
That work, as well as the Planning Board’s site plan review for the project, is just beginning. Eventually, Wildberry Lodge would have to go through public hearings and the SEQRA process.
Any changes in zoning would also likely trigger a public hearing.