By James Walsh
Published: 2:00 AM - 03/07/14
WARWICK — The ring of keys that Supervisor Michael Sweeton raised in his right hand told everyone what they wanted to know: The state had finally approved transferring the former Mid-Orange Correctional Facility to the town.
Nearly three years after the state closed the prison off Kings Highway, the town and its Local Development Corporation are finally free to market it as the Warwick Valley Office and Technology Corporate Park.
"Until this point, we couldn't discuss specifics with anyone, because we didn't have the keys," Sweeton said. "Now we have the keys."
The announcement in Town Hall drew about 50 people, mostly public and business officials. A yard-wide cake decorated with one word — Congratulations — waited in the foyer for celebrants marking what Sweeton called a historic day.
LDC Chairman Robert Krahulik told the gathering that the vision was to provide residents with good-paying jobs close to home. He and Sweeton lauded the efforts of a coalition of local government and businesspeople that worked to present the state with a development plan. The Warwick Planning Board, Krahulik said, made 10 sites totaling 48 acres "shovel ready" for construction after less than three months of review.
The former prison occupies 730 acres. The LDC owns 150 acres, including the existing buildings. It paid $3.5 million for that property with a mortgage carrying less than 1 percent interest provided by local businessman Robert Schluter. The remaining acreage was sold by the state to the town for $1. The bulk of the property will remain undeveloped for environmental preservation and recreation.
"This is a trendsetter for what we need to do in Orange County," said County Executive Steve Neuhaus. "The one thing we need in Orange County is shovel-ready sites."
Orange County Partnership CEO Maureen Halahan said her agency was eager to market the property. "Our mission is to let the world know what we have here in Orange County."
The site was one of 21 priority projects endorsed last year by the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, making its development eligible for state funding. The property has sewer and water service, as well as a steam heating plant. There is also redundant fiber optic cable. That's a draw for data-collection companies, one of several types of businesses that have expressed interest in locating there.
Zoning allows uses ranging from research and development to light manufacturing, from agricultural processing to offices.
"It will, for the first time in its history, produce tax revenues," Sweeton said.