The economy of New Paltz is dependent upon visitors: tourists, college students, people bringing money from somewhere else to spend here. While the presence of SUNY New Paltz ensures a certain number of jobs in the community, there is a sense that many young people growing up here cannot afford to stay as adults. If the problem of job diversity is one of space, Matt Eyler and John Johnson have a fix for that. The two, a real estate broker and a developer, have partnered to create what they’re calling an “industry hub” on 60 acres along North Ohioville Road.
Eyler, a marketing maven and all-around people person, is serving as the public face for the project. He’s familiar with the town government insofar as he helped find the site for a new police station and courthouse while acting as a consultant. Eyler knows how to value real estate, but Johnson knows how to build on a budget. Eyler calls it a “magical” partnership, as the two’s skills complement each other: one holds the arcane knowledge of marketing, while the other has building codes and costs on lockdown.
A concern that drives this project, says Eyler, is that New Paltz is being “hollowed out” as young adults leave for college, never to return due to lack of opportunity to succeed right here. “There are not enough jobs,” he says, and a diversity of jobs is needed to keep a community vibrant, and strong. What’s needed is space for young creative types to stretch their wings, but there is definitely a lack of space for that right now. “Buildings are expensive,” he explains, too expensive for someone trying to assume all the responsibility of adulthood to simply construct on their own. He and Johnson want to build this hub to make New Paltz more attractive to anyone seeking a place where they can find their way in the world.
The site seems suited to this purpose: it’s a quiet stretch on the outskirts of town, a mile up Ohioville Road where the sound of power tools would be unlikely to rattle neighbors. With power lines running across one corner, this parcel of land is unlikely to become a place where children play or outdoor concerts are held. Those power lines are, at the moment, the clearest reminder that this is zoned as light industrial space. Light industry, in New Paltz, is an area where neither residential nor retail is allowed. It’s intended for manufacturing (as long as it’s not with hazardous materials), offices, flexible spaces in which business can be conducted but customers will not be served. The limitations in the zoning code lay out that anything “noxious or offensive by reason of the emission of odor, dust, smoke, toxic or noisome fumes, radiation, gas, noise, vibration or excessive light, or any combination of the above, which is dangerous and prejudicial to the public health, safety and general welfare” isn’t permitted. Someone could make furniture there, for example, or operate an art or film studio. Light industry also includes research laboratories — which could benefit from the presence of the college — and storage facilities, which isn’t being considered at all.
“This could be the most exciting thing I’ve ever worked on,” Eyler says, his voice suffused with enthusiasm. He sees it as fitting well into the community and fulfilling a need by providing space for both blue- and white-collar entrepreneurs in what’s promised to be a very flexible space. “Our aim is to make everyone feel comfortable, and that’s hard to do,” he admits. The solution they are offering is “blank slate” space with high ceilings, concrete floors, and roll-up doors. Spaces can be sized to the tenant, but in theory how the tenant uses it won’t be constrained by any building design features. “It’s a box,” Eyler explains, a “utilitarian design” the uses of which are limited only by imagination. “It’s hard to know where the demand will be,” but they will work to make the site as appealing as possible.
Under the scheme, this industry hub would start with a single building, with expansion driven by demand for space there. New tenants will always be part of that mix, but Eyler expects some of the growth will be to provide more room for growing companies. A number of steel structures could fit comfortably on the site with suitable parking, but the exact capacity won’t be known until a site plan is submitted for review. That plan would show features like wetlands which could constrain development. Eyler wants to see green and community spaces incorporated into the hub, as well; he offers ideas like a pavilion as a possibility.
Early reaction to the plan by potential stakeholders has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Eyler has found, and now he’s making a more public pitch in advance of an inevitable planning board application. College officials including President Donald Christian have offered resources and support, such as ways to collaborate with the existing campus incubator and access to people who guide economic development funds in the county. Eyler says there is a lot of interest in the concept, especially since most developers are focused on housing. That’s a challenge because the demands of apartment buildings on roads, water, sewer and emergency services are always more than is collected in property tax. Commercial and industrial land can offset that, reducing strain on individual taxpayers. That’s especially relevant in New Paltz, where large swaths of land are off the tax rolls entirely.
“We love schools here, but land off the rolls isn’t paying for them,” Eyler points out.
Look for a planning board submission as soon as August. Eyler and Johnson hope to break ground next year. If and when the first building goes up, they will use fire-rated sheetrock to subdivide the space as needed. “We’re responsible for the shell, and the tenant does the rest,” which includes applying for any needed permits for what they’ve got in mind. In some cases, tenants may find themselves also appearing before the planning board, but none of that will happen until the industry hub itself is taken off the drawing board.
Eyler welcomes questions about the plans by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.