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JCIDA focused on plan to launch corporate park at Watertown airport

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Plans are taking shape to launch a corporate business park at Watertown International Airport near Dexter, sources say, with the goal of transforming the site into a regional transportation hub.

Because the 13 lots at Jefferson County Corporate Park on Route 12F are expected to be full soon, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency has turned its attention to 45 acres of undeveloped land east of the airport’s taxiway that it owns for the establishment of the corporate park. Sources say the park is envisioned as a hub for transportation and logistics businesses that rely on air transportation.

The agency’s first step will be to find out whether launching a park at the airport, along Route 12F, makes sense, JCIDA CEO Donald C. Alexander said. The agency has partnered with the engineering firm Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, to conduct a feasibility study to determine the best way to develop the park at the airport, looking at available infrastructure and how it would be linked to neighboring roads. The study likely will be completed in the coming month and made available for the agency’s board of directors to review.

“We’re looking from a 30,000-square-foot view and saying, ‘If all things were perfect, how would we best develop the land around the airport?’ We’ve done some preliminary plans on how it might look but wanted to get a sense of that from a broad viewpoint,” Mr. Alexander said. “Once we have a document that gives us a broad perspective of how this development should occur, then we would partner with the county, town, federal and state agencies to develop this park as a strategic transportation asset for the region.”

Mr. Alexander said preliminary work needed to establish the park is already under way. The town of Hounsfield is building a water line along Route 12F as a part of its Water District 5 project, be a key piece of necessary infrastructure. The $4.8 million project also will include stretches of Foster Park Road, Route 180 and Route 3. The project broke ground in May and is slated to be done in the spring.

After the water project is completed, Mr. Alexander said, the next step will be to develop sewer infrastructure at the site. The town of Hounsfield has sought grant funding to conduct an engineering study, he said, but if that effort fails, the JCIDA could get involved by seeking grant funding. As an alternative to developing a sewer district, he said, packaged sewer treatment systems could be installed at the site to serve businesses on an as-needed basis.

“A lot of the funds we might go after are matching grants,” Mr. Alexander said, adding that the agency could cooperate with the Hounsfield and Jefferson County leaders to do so. “This might become a regional project of major importance, and there’s a whole cast of players that could be involved.”

Establishing a corporate park has been a priority for county leaders since 2006, when Jefferson County took over Watertown International Airport, County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said. At that time, a group of county officials toured three large airports across the state that have accompanying corporate parks to see their benefits firsthand: Elmira Corning Regional Airport in Chemung County, Greater Binghamton Airport in Broome County and Tompkins County Airport in Ithaca.

“These corporate parks were all flourishing because of that linkage, and the individual businesses occupying the land were closely linked to the aviation world, like FedEx,” Mr. Hagemann said. “We walked away thinking about the potential here as well. In the intervening time, the focus was to develop the airport itself, with the bigger view of helping out with economic development at the borders of the airport.”

Mr. Hagemann said that aiding the effort to attract businesses to the proposed corporate park will be an increase in passenger numbers that this year reached a record, thanks to the launch of flights to Chicago by American Eagle Airlines last November.

While the airport accommodated about 8,000 passengers in 2011, he said, it’s expected to record more than 35,000 emplanements by Saturday, which marks the airline’s first anniversary doing business here.

“We now have the attention of the American Eagle folks,” he said. “We see Fort Drum not only continuing to be the biggest customer, but local people traveling for personal and business reasons. People to the north in Ontario are also taking advantage of this location.”

He continued, “That market can continue to multiply. From an economic development standpoint, we want to look at general aviation growth and the adjoining corporate park. Hopefully that will become a reality in the next five years.”

David J. Converse, chairman of the JCIDA board of directors, said the agency’s most urgent order of business will be to develop a plan for making the land at the park shovel-ready.

“We’re going to sit down to see what we need to do to bring infrastructure in,” he said. “Our goal is to have this a shovel-ready site so when you have a chance to bring a company in, you’re ready to go. We’ve had some site selectors that have looked at it and said it might not be a bad place.”

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