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New Jersey investor “semi-interested” in former race track property

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BRASHER FALLS - There may be some interest in the land in the Brasher Flats area that was formerly destined to become a race track and entertainment complex.

Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson told his town board members Wednesday that Ash Jain, a businessman from New Jersey, was “semi-interested” in the land.

Mr. Jain was in the area this week to meet with him, Massena Mayor James F. Hidy, Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, Massena Electric Department Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon, St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire and Brian Norton from the county Industrial Development Agency.

“He is semi-interested in buying the racetrack property. We had a two-hour meeting. He was more or less saying, ‘You tell me what is the best use for that property,’” Mr. Dawson said.

He said Mr. Jain has indicated he has money to invest and is willing to partner with a public or private entity, but was looking for some guidance on the best use for the site.

Mr. Dawson said he had initial conversations with Mr. Jain approximately a year ago after the New Jersey man saw it being advertised as available.

“He asked me some information about it. I gave him what I knew about it,” he said.

The property, which was once intended to be a racetrack but got caught up in a Ponzi scheme, recently failed to sell at an auction arranged by the bankruptcy trustee for Agape World, the company that held the mortgage on the land.

The property was foreclosed on a complaint filed by Kenneth P. Silverman, the bankruptcy trustee of Agape World, which financed the $2.1 million mortgage for Northway Island Associates. The land is an asset of Agape World, whose owner, Nicholas Cosmos, pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud charges in 2010 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for stealing more than $125 million from thousands of investors over five years.

“He asked me, ‘What’s the best use for that land? I can afford to buy the property, but what can I do with it afterwards?’ Right now I’m kind of in limbo. I’m not really sure what he wants and he’s not really sure what he wants. He’s looking at a situation in the short term and in the long term making a bit of a profit,” Mr. Dawson said.

Mr. Gray said he suggested the area become focused on agriculture.

“I think one of the things we need to do is return to some of our roots in agriculture that are very difficult to make profitable. I believe we should look at beef cattle. You go to the supermarket and have a very tough time finding any beef that’s not grown in the western states,” he said.

Mr. Gray noted that local beef farmers raise the cattle and sell them an auction, where they’re purchased, taken out west and fattened up before they’re slaughtered and the meat returns to the east coast.

“It would make sense to put dairy farmers to work and see if they can go back to work processing beef so we would have eastern grown beef,” he said.

“I also suggested that I believe there’s a market for goats in New York and other major cities, particularly in Muslim cities,” Mr. Gray added.

Mr. Dawson had suggested to his board in May that he also wanted to explore a casino for the more than 900 acres of land in Brasher and Norfolk. As part of the state’s budget passed in April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed the creation of a gambling commission to plan an expansion of up to seven non-Indian casinos and a commission to evaluate tax breaks and incentives and map out a taxing strategy.

“If we could get everybody together, can you imagine the sales tax that would generate?” he told board members last month. “I think it has some merit, but you have to get everybody involved, including Franklin County.”

“I think the idea of the race track was interesting, and Mr. Dawson’s idea of a casino is interesting,” Mr. Gray said, “but I think a more basic approach might be more do-able.”

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