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Kang explains intentions

By Dan Hust
NARROWSBURG — December 24, 2010 — More than 60 Narrowsburg residents got their first introduction to New York City developer Ilwon Kang on Monday.
Though the gathering followed the regular Tusten Planning Board meeting in the Tusten Theatre, it was set up by Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce President Jane Luchsinger and Sullivan West Superintendent Ken Hilton in an effort to dispel the fears and concerns surrounding Kang’s plans for the Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley campuses, which he may purchase in the coming months.
Whether that goal was accomplished is debatable.
Though he’s bid $3 million for the two closed schools, Kang has been vague about his intentions for them, only saying DV could be a boarding school and Narrowsburg could become a satellite hospitality offering for a larger hospitality property somewhere else in the county or state.
He did reveal a potential partner, Marcus Hotels and Resorts, a Milwaukee-based operator of 18 hotels scattered across the northern Midwest (with one, the Platinum, in Las Vegas).
Kang insisted he has nothing to hide but instead wants to gain public input.
“We are looking for your participation, your assistance,” he told the crowd. “... We are still trying to accommodate the initial wants of the community.”
That was met by skepticism from speakers in the audience, who found it hard to believe Kang was prepared to invest $3 million – not counting the money he’s spending now on due diligence – in buildings for which he has no defined vision.
Former Narrowsburg hotel proprietor Tom Prendergast noted that his own business had a zero percent occupancy rate in several winters.
“Do you have knowledge of something we’re not aware of?” he asked.
No, replied Kang, “but I understand the challenges in this area, and we’re hoping to overcome them.”
How he might do that, however, remained nebulous.
“We’re looking for some answers,” demanded one man.
Kang had few to give, and his request for ideas from the crowd went even more unanswered.
SW board member Noel van Swol was particularly concerned, having voted against accepting Kang’s bids earlier this month.
“To me, a big red flag was that you didn’t include your $150,000 check with your November 15 bid,” he told Kang.
One bid document said any bidder must submit the required five percent deposit with the bid, while another document said the deposit could be submitted up to five days after the school board’s acceptance of the bid.
Kang’s bid was in district hands on December 2, the day after the board majority approved his two bids. The reason, said Hilton, was that Kang couldn’t get the money to the district any faster.
“If you had trouble raising the $150,000 deposit,” noted van Swol, “... how can we be sure you can raise the full $3 million purchase price, especially in an economy where real estate loans are practically nonexistent?”
Kang said he had provided the needed financial-ability proof to the district, but van Swol said he had yet to see it.
“People in Sullivan County are very reluctant because we’ve been through this so many times,” explained 50-year Narrowsburg resident Bernie Creamer, who doubted Kang could ever turn a profit at either Narrowsburg or DV.
“I think Sullivan County is a great place, 90 minutes from New York City,” Kang replied, referencing a 30-year-long familiarity with the area as a former Scoutmaster.
“We want to do something with that building that will give it a future that is just as important to the community as its past,” Hilton said to a crowd mostly interested in the Narrowsburg campus.
Here are the insights gained from Kang’s presentation:
• Whatever project is proposed must follow state and town laws, including the environmental review process. The building would likely retain its current look.
• Using Narrowsburg for anything other than a school, said Tusten Supervisor Peggy Harrison, would require a zoning change, as the property is currently zoned residential.
• Kang said his development team includes Poughkeepsie architect Michael McCormack, building consultant Steve Bowes from Algonquin Construction and food & entertainment consultant John Rimakis, who has 29 years of experience with Six Flags Great Adventure. They’ve recently spent time researching the nearby Villa Roma and Woodloch Pines.
• Though Narrowsburg would be a hospitality property, Kang continues to doubt its viability as a “boutique hotel.” Nor does he think it has potential as a retail center.
• Kang has not been involved in any development projects in Sullivan County to date, though he is searching the area for other properties.
• Kang acknowledged he plans to take advantage of any tax incentives offered by the Industrial Development Agency and others, though he said that was not why he was interested in acquiring the schools.
• Though no local partners are currently involved, Kang said he’d welcome discussions with interested parties, including alternate bidder Dick Riseling, whom Kang thinks has good ideas for Narrowsburg.
• In prior discussions, Kang has promised he’s not bringing Section 8 housing, an adult home or gas drilling to Narrowsburg, and on Monday he said he hasn’t had any involvement with drug and alcohol rehab centers nor casinos.
• Similarly, Kang related, “I have not flipped a property in my life.”
• Kang will be “roaming around town for the next few months,” said Hilton, exploring options for putting the schools back on the tax rolls.
“He is a guy that is trying to come to our community and bring jobs and a tax base to us,” Hilton proffered.
Whether the majority of the SW community believes that may soon be tested.
Two petitions are currently circulating in the SW district, one for each campus. If signed by around 1,000 eligible residents each, they could force the district to hold a vote – open to every district voter – on whether or not to rebid the sales.
Those petitions are available through the end of this month at Narrowsburg Roasters and Callicoon Wine Merchant.
Kang has indicated enough community opposition may send him elsewhere, but he also acknowledged at Monday’s meeting that while he can take the $150,000 deposit that SW now has with him if he decides not to go to closing, he still stands to lose the money expended during this due-diligence phase.

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