‘Napa meets New Paltz’: the latest on the Wildberry Lodge project

Steve and Shelley Turk with their French Poodle Luc on their property at the intersection of Paradies Lane and Main Street in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

According to developer Steve Turk, “Napa meets New Paltz” is what visitors to The Wildberry Lodge & Spa will find at the completion of the multifaceted recreation and tourism destination planned for a 57-acre parcel of land along Route 299 and South Ohioville Road. If all goes as expected, groundbreaking for the $42 million project will happen next summer, with construction to be completed in two phases, each lasting two-and-a-half years.

Turk spoke at the New Paltz Community Center on Tuesday, May 22, at the first of several community presentations about the project given by the Turk Hospitality Group. He talked about his passion for the project, emphasizing his family’s lifelong ties to the community and their many volunteer and philanthropic efforts. Both he and his wife, Shelley — an equal partner in Wildberry Lodge — are New Paltz natives, Turk said, SUNY New Paltz business school alumni who raised their daughters here and who already provide 350 jobs for local residents at the family business founded by his parents in 1958, Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in Highland. The couple also own and operate SplashDown Beach water park in Fishkill, which they acquired in 2004.

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“We love this community, and we’re not going anywhere,” Turk told the full house of attendees at the presentation. “Shelley and I are responsible, ethical business owners in this community. And we both understand what the right thing to do means for our community.”

The construction of such a “monster” project as Wildberry Lodge is not a get-rich-quick scheme, Turk noted, but rather “a long-range plan requiring stabilization and major recapitalization.” Wildberry Lodge, LLC is seeking a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) arrangement along with a mortgage filing fee exemption and sales tax exemption on construction materials.

The Ulster County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) has given initial approval to the Turks to develop the 57-acre property they purchased for $2 million in 2015. The IDA board will hold a public hearing on the PILOT request on Monday, June 4 at 7 p.m. at New Paltz High School, 130 South Putt Corners Road.

The PILOT

Turk’s presentation at the community center focused on the benefits the proposed project would bring to New Paltz and the greater Hudson Valley region. In addition to being a tourism magnet that will bring visitors into the village to shop and dine, it will serve as “an artistic, educational and environmental landmark,” he said. “I think it will be an asset for the area’s economy, bringing at least 130 to 140 jobs.” The project is expected to create 150-185 jobs during construction, using local labor “as much as possible.”

Turk said he has received some negative feedback from the community with regard to the PILOT request, but claimed the information about it circulating on the Internet isn’t accurate.

According to the application papers filed with the IDA by Wildberry Lodge, LLC — available to view at http://ulstercountyny.gov/economic-development/ulster-county-industrial-development-agency under “projects,” — the tax relief Wildberry Lodge would receive from the PILOT and the other exemptions requested amounts to nearly $11.2 million. But the numbers on the application were not thoroughly vetted before the papers were submitted, Turk said, put there “strictly as place marks,” conservative approximations that he now wishes he “could take back.”

According to their calculations now, the actual amount of tax relief the project will receive if approved for a 15-year PILOT is $6.4 million, and the project will contribute more than $6.7 million in property tax payments during the life of the PILOT.

For the first 2.5 years of construction, Turk explained, they will continue to pay the approximately $21,000 in property taxes they’ve paid annually on the undeveloped land at its current assessment. (For decades prior, he noted, the previous land owner contributed the same into town coffers.) Once the property is reassessed at the 2.5-year mark, when construction of phase one — a 90-room hotel and conference center — is complete and the doors open, the PILOT kicks in.

At year five, when construction of phase two is completed, the property taxes will rise at least ten-fold, Turk said, to nearly $300,000 by year five and rising annually after that until the project has contributed $6.7 million in taxes by the end of the PILOT. After year 15, when the PILOT ends, the project is expected to contribute $390,000 annually in taxes.

Community concerns

Questions from the community members present at the meeting focused primarily on concerns of increased traffic, use of town services, sewer infrastructure and the effect the project would have on the school district budget. 

According to Scott Butler, engineer and project manager for Wildberry Lodge, the project will not have an impact on the school district’s budget, because it will not add any additional students to the New Paltz district. And the eventual rise of taxes on the property will only benefit the school district in years to come, he added. 

With regard to town services, Wildberry Lodge will either contribute to the local rescue squad or use the same on-call, as-needed, paid emergency service that Rocking Horse Ranch currently does. The only other demand for services would be police and fire, Butler said, “or something that happens in the community as the result of guests or visitors.” Overall, he noted, the impact of the project on local services will be “very, very low.”

The Turks also plan to pay for highway improvements around the property, including a traffic circle to help diffuse traffic flow coming off the Thruway and adding turning lanes to the intersection of Route 299 and South Ohioville Road. Turk said a study was done that showed traffic after the project’s completion would “meet all traffic thresholds at full capacity.”

As for sewer usage, Wildberry Lodge, LLC will pay for their water and sewer services and plan to invest in sewer infrastructure improvements in the village, paying for replacement of the failing sewers in district six. 

Town of New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez, in attendance at the meeting, voiced his approval for the project. “There are some real benefits,” he said, noting that sewer infrastructure in district six has been in dire need of replacement for some time but grants to pay for it are not available unless the system actually fails. The area only services 28 homes, Bettez said, “but imagine if you and 27 of your neighbors suddenly had to come up with millions of dollars to build a new sewer.”

The supervisor also commended Turk for recently sending some of his employees as advisors to help get the Moriello Pool open on time this summer. “They just have a wealth of knowledge, and it was generous. It shows that Steve [Turk] is a part of this community; not this developer coming in from somewhere else where they just want to build some junk and leave. When I go back and look at the different plans that have been proposed for this site, from Walmart and Crossroads, and then look at this plan… We’re never going to get better than this. We can argue about the PILOT, and the amount, but when you build something big and bold like this, you need a PILOT to help you get on your feet. And a big, transformative project like this… maybe they need a little help for the first couple of years.”

In the long run, said Bettez, the project will attract tourism and create economic benefits. “I know it’s never popular to be in favor of something in New Paltz,” he said, at which he was interrupted by laughter and applause from the audience. “But you can’t say ‘no’ to everything all the time. We have to say ‘yes’ to the right projects. I think we should give Steve and his family a shot.”

Another community member expressed skepticism about the supervisor’s optimism, saying that the overall benefits to the community still had to be fully explained to him and others. “PILOTs aren’t necessarily bad, but it’s got to be the right deal for our community. I remain open-minded, but it is what it is, and it depends on what the deal is.” 

The new, scaled-down plan

The vision for Wildberry Lodge has morphed several times over the past few years since the original plan that included a $75 million water park. The current $42 million project reflects what local residents and municipal leaders told him they want in the community, said Turk. A Seattle-based firm was brought in to consult on the resort’s design.   

It may be a scaled-down version of the original plan, and the water park has been eliminated, but there’s still plenty going on. The amenities at the 57-acre site — with 33 of those acres to be left “forever wild” — will include the Wildberry Botanical Spa & Wellness Center: a full-service spa with 12-16 therapy rooms, an open space studio for yoga and meditation, a fitness center, mineral springs and an indoor-to-outdoor swimming pool. 

Guests at the 90-room hotel designed by local architect Rick Alfandre will have access to “Adventure Concierge Guides,” who will shuttle visitors into the village for shopping and dining and to the Hudson Valley’s historic and cultural sites.

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The smaller of two planned event and conference facilities will be built into the core of the hotel, accommodating up to 150 people. A second multi-purpose space holding approximately 500 guests will be in a stand-alone, 11,000-square-foot “modern barn” structure with “breakout” rooms that can host simultaneous meetings. 

A boutique-style restaurant will be attached to the hotel lobby and include a chef’s demonstration kitchen. Based on future demand, another stand-alone restaurant may eventually be built. 

The property will also feature a grassy, tiered open-air outdoor amphitheater seating up to 500, to be used seasonally for “unplugged” or low-volume live music and theatrical presentations. A greenhouse will be adjacent to a 15,000-square-foot butterfly conservatory showcasing hundreds of butterfly species. The space is intended to be for educational purposes such as school field trips and will also be open to daily walk-in visitors for enjoyment. 

A “treehouse and canopy adventure” is planned on the grounds, as well, along with zip lines, rope courses and adventure climbing. The site rendering also depicts artist studios and a sculpture garden in the mix, and a wetlands observation deck to overlook the 11 acres of bird sanctuary and wetlands on the 33 acres of the property to be left undeveloped. A planted screen and berm will block out the New York State Thruway that runs along the far side of the property, and approximately 500 parking spaces will be provided.

Other than the hotel rooms, all of the various activities and facilities will be open to the public. Pricing will not be all-inclusive, as it is at Rocking Horse Ranch. Use of the resort by locals will be encouraged; Turk says he plans to offer “special arrangements” for individuals and families who live in the area.

For more information, visit The Wildberry Lodge on Facebook.com or  http://www.thewildberrylodge.com/.

There are 33 comments

  1. Your Local Developer

    Don’t do it, you’ll be sorry. When it was the Plesser Property, Mr. Plesser from Albany told me face-to-face he couldn’t sell the parcel to anybody, but he had to keep paying real property taxes. Then the next developer couldn’t get his project approved, then so on. only person making out is the town’s engineer. And forget the IDA, they are ripe to sacrifice somebody on the cross, and you more and more look like the one. There’s no access in and out, and instead of tearing down the cottage by the diner, an brand new two story house? professional building? has gone in. You are out.

    At one point, in order to appease nature loving opponents, it was actually proposed by one developer to put in two long concrete buffers in the shape of a front end plow in order to safely conduct salamanders in the area away from the road. That was a good one.

  2. this is madness

    You must be joking. There is no way in HELL this is going to be built. The New Paltz community doesn’t need this. The New Paltz community didn’t ask for this. This is no way helps the New Paltz community.

      1. FunkieGunkie

        Why just his tax dollars? How about the land trusts and the Mohonk Preserve? They are officially not for profit real estate monopolies. This is a college town, that serves elitism by overcharging the locals to go for walks and increasing the taxes by 8%. I’m so glad I don’t have to pay your taxes without representation.

        1. Your Local Assessor

          Actually, your Income taxes with the state and the feds are returned to the park village town pool, the Smelly Brothers, the village park etc. through grants from the respective state and federal departments of the interior (fed) historic national sites , you name it, through grants. So no, you do pay your income taxes “without representation” and more. The Smelly Brothers lake and resort is nothing BUT a commercial enterprise? Why did you think otherwise unless you have confused it with Mohonk Preserve?

          1. FunkieGunkie

            I’m talking about New Paltz property taxes and school taxes that have increased this year alone by 8%. And I’m also speaking of not for profit land trusts otherwise called tax exempt real estate monopolies. The Mohonk Mountain House pays taxes and the Preserve does not. They both have influenced the Town in thier favor for too long. The Mountain House and Preserve are the biggest developers on the so called “protected Ridge line”. What’s your confusion? Federal income taxes are paid at your own discretion if your self employed.

  3. Leslie Jones

    This absolutely benefits New Paltz and anyone arguing otherwise is lying to you.
    Let’s do a real-time drive from Ohioville Rd to Downtown…not what NIMBY’S imagine, but what is real.
    New Paltz can’t afford to pave Main Street for much of the length, it is riddled with pot holes – new revenue would change that. The old 87 Motel and Diner site is abandoned, overgrown, complete with grafitti and blight. It is generating Zero Revenue for the town. The once-upon a time Mobil station is now a failing quick mart and gas station. The Shop Right Plaza is 50% vacant, in desperate need of upkeep and redevelopment, it is not
    providing revenue at full capacity. The Consignment Shop at Ohioville Road is derelict and not performing. The office space along Main Street now has multiple vacancies and generating zero revenue.
    New Paltz, other than higher education, is driven by, funded by, and only benefits from our regional tourism. This project has been designed, redesigned, and redesigned again…this group is doing their best effort to make it work for everyone. You can’t expect anyone to every come to New Paltz and do anything anymore when this town could BARELY approve Zero Place which is the golden-egg of responsible community development.
    If New Paltzians can’t open their supposed ‘liberal’ minds to new ideas, new people, and new opportunities then New Paltzians can just continue to have deteriorating infrastructure, no new jobs, no new revenue, and no opportunity. You will forever be branded as ‘Keep Out’ and just a string of Irish Pubs to service college kids.
    Come on New Paltz – time to grow up. Just a little.

    1. paltzian

      Dissing a small local business… How classy of you.
      “The Consignment Shop at Ohioville Road is derelict and not performing. ” What does that even mean? I don’t know how you define “performance,” but they sold a bunch of stuff for me, the check arrived on time and I have no complaints.

    2. FunkieGunkie

      This does NOT benefit New Paltz. The Town doesn’t need more tourists. It’s been over saturated for years. And I drive down Main Street. It takes 30 minutes to go 1-2 miles on the weekends. The tax base is ruined with the college, churches and not for profit real estate monopolies called land trusts.

  4. Disgruntled Local

    I live on Ohioville Rd. and commute daily on the Thruway and this is really going to suck for me. Thanks a lot.

    1. Tyrone K.

      I live further East than Ohioville Road and commute daily on the Thruway and I have never had an issue, other than sitting through a couple of traffic lights.

      People are imagining things and its very strange to watch this all unfold. The traffic at the intersections is actually local people driving into New Paltz, students driving into New Paltz.

      The dreaded outsiders that everyone blames all of our ills on only happens in reality on Friday evenings, typically from 7 to 9 PM and again on Sundays typically from 4 to 7 PM. Otherwise, the backups are local commuters going to and from Poughkeepsie, Highland and New Paltz.

      We are the ones who are creating the traffic. Just to be really clear.

  5. Localgal

    Leslie and Tyrone rock!! I mean, they make fantastic point with which I agree. Come on “No Paltz” time to realize that perhaps just perhaps taxes will change a bit when we start saying “yes” to tax paying development. I have NEVER been upset that we said “no” to Walmart (Target is horrible too) but really, power can be found in saying yes to unique/smart development. It is time for our tiny tiny TINY, one trick, sleepy town to march into the reality of change. You will be ok.

  6. new paltz Republican/Conservative

    Build, Build, Build,We Need Jobs Not Liberal Tree Hugging Green Party Environmentalist .

    Global Warming is the Greatest Fake news story of all time.

    Al Gore Should Donate the Millions he Made off his Fake news Movie if he is such a caring nice guy.

    BUILD BUILD BUILD, JOBS JOBS JOBS.

  7. FunkieGunkie

    The Town is already saturated with tourism. Traffic has been getting worse and has been an issue for decades. The taxes are too high for the average person and the Town is pushing locals out for deeper NYC pockets. Keep selling out to the tourism and you will have your Disneyland!! Over 37% of the tax base is exempt from taxes because of the college, churches, and land trusts. Get a grip. This town is flooded with tourism that begins on Friday at 2-3pm and doesn’t slow down until Sunday evening unless there is a holiday, then Monday is jammed up also. The Town needs to get tax payments from the land trusts. They are buying high priority parcels and removing the tax base. They claim they are protecting it but all I see is them making millions off the tourism and developing the property for tourism with no taxes paid. New Paltz, you are selling out and do not take care of your taxpayers. Why is OSI not paying for thier lease on Town Land? It’s ran by the Rockefeller’s and your giving them a handout? This towns priorities are only in the interests of thier makers who are the Open Space Institute, Mohonk Mountain House and the Mohonk Preserve. All tourist traps that overcharge for elitist tourism. Www.mohonk.info

      1. Henry Court

        The mayor is for the Village of New Paltz, not the town of New Paltz. Town of New Paltz has a supervisor and a town lawyer who’s been there protecting your interests since the 1980’s and sits on the Town’s zoning board too. The Village hires a lawyer now only when it needs one, and the members of the Village’s zoning board and planning board are unknown except under a freedom of information act. What you really vote for is the Village of New Paltz’s grant writer, as , that is where the money is for both municipalities, alone and together.

    1. Your Local Assessor

      The Open Space Institute owns four parcels total in the Town, about 300 acres all told, valued at $1.2 million. They pay taxes on only a portion of the $1.2 million value because 65% of the lands are in “agricultural districts”.

      1. FunkieGunkie

        $1.2 million is not fair market value for 300 acres of prime real estate in New Paltz. It may be assessed value but that never represents what it is actually worth. My friend just sold 75 acres for $1.2 million in Accord. Besides OSI bought 857 acres from the Mountain House and had it taken off the tax rolls. It also was purchased for far less then fair market value ($2.1 million?). Then it was resold to the Mohonk Preserve for even less money. So you see they gobble up prime real estate then sell it to the land trust in the end for way less then it’s worth. And no taxes are paid. This puts the Town of New Paltz at a revenue disadvantage and increases the taxes on its taxpayers. Now the River to Ridge parking lot is leased by OSI and they pay no fee. The Town is responsible for law enforcement and emergency care and cannot dump thier snow thier anymore.

        1. Last Of The Mohicans

          There is no such thing as “fair market value.”? It is a utopian phrase, a fairy tale, not-to-be-beloved. Also, there is a big difference between “fair market value” and “market value”, as one gets printed up as a public document and one does not. And what does “off the tax rolls” mean? No such occurrence as well, as correction forms exist in this state if the assessing unit messes up, and it has to be filed at county, but as far as a parcel owner having an SBL number actually removed from the rolls, well, you would be committing a crime, and crimes are punishable by law against all the perpetrators. Your “friend” have a name, a section block and lot number to identify the transaction by? As to “revenue” for municipalities, the United States taxpayer (and God Bless America) is subsidizing Mohowk Hawse unwittingly through Federal grants, as well as State taxpayers and the locals. File a Freedom of Information Act with the local governments to see just how much “revenue” that is?

          1. FunkieGunkie

            If there is no such things as fair market value then you cannot compare it market value? Thanks for your semantics. My point is that assessed values in this case do not represent market value of the price it sold for. “Off the tax rolls” means tax exempt giving no revenue to the Town. Again thanks for your semantics. The taxpayers are subsidizing the Tax exempt Mohonk Preserve much more then the Tax paying Mohonk Mountain House and I do not need to FOIA the Town to figure that one out. And to top it off they claim it’s for conservation but all I see is that nature is for sale and a very profitable ecotourism business slips by without paying thier fair share all while overusing the ecosystem they claim to protect and over charging people for interaction with nature. Most native locals share this sentiment and newer visitors don’t have a clue or choose to ignore these facts. Neighboring property owners get harassed and have to go to court to protect thier property rights. And the racketeering continues. Www.mohonk.info

        2. Your Local Assessor

          If Mohawk House, with 400 acres, a 256 room hotel, banquet hall, a 50 hectare lake and outbuildings is assessed at $2,560,000 and pays taxes of $89,000, than it is not the OSI you should be looking at? That luxury resort hotel is laughing all the way to the bank for more than a century now, and, New York State and Federal Government don’t do a thing about it on behalf of local, county, state and federal income tax payers. That’s it! Forget the parking lot, its incidental.

    2. new paltz conservative republican

      When we have traffic we simply build roads. Roads mean people travel, people traveling means jobs.

      We want businesses, roads and lots of traffic. Lots of traffic is a good thing not bad. Lots of traffic means lots of people. Lots of people means lots of jobs.

      We dont want to move back to the year 1800.

      Traffic, Roads, Stores, Shopping Malls, Hotels are Good Things.

      Buring Coal To Reduce My Electric Bill is a Good Thing Not Bad.

      1. FunkieGunkie

        If your burning coal you are living in the 1800’s. If you like traffic so much you should get in you car and drive to the city. Not sure if your paying attention but the city people come up here because they like the country not the traffic.

        1. conservative/republican

          i wouldn’t worrie about New Paltz becoming as large as NYC anytime soon.

          Yes it will grow things change life progresses forward, enjoy your life, smoke a joint as i am now try jack herier for a nice sativa lift(:

          p/s trump is a democrat plant, wake up to reality……

        2. npz b.

          If they come up here to avoid traffic they should just stay there as they are bringing the traffic they are trying to avoid?

  8. Ballam

    Forty-two million dollars for this proposed project, Wetland Ponds is valued at $35 million and Mohawk Mountain House is valued at $2,560,000. Turco, you should cut your losses get back to where you once belonged, to cop a phrase.

      1. Your Local Assessor

        Matthew 7:15 is the origin of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. What we are after is justice, not love, just like Nathan Hale, Joe Hill and John Brown.

        1. tax payer new paltz

          Those in charge have no right to raise current home owner taxes before new business gets a tax break. No tax break for anyone except home owner who cant afford anymore increase!!!

    1. Bill P new paltz

      Whole assesment system way too flawed, unfair and very bias. Totally insane and makes no sense.
      My taxes are over 7k for a tiny tiny home with 4 acers, mostly swamp land, so total rip off and wipeing us out to poverty. We cant afford the tax now, if up more we will loose our home.

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