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Dan Hust | Democrat

Attorney Jacob Billig represented Butch Resnick of Glen Wild, whose plan is to rehab the existing Apollo structure rather than build new. Resnick could start work in as little as 60 days.

Apollo plans get lookover

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — January 25, 2011 — Three hopeful developers for the Apollo vied for legislators’ attention on Thursday, and one of them got the county’s blessing.
Vermont-based Carbon Harvest Energy (CHE) called the site “THE perfect project for us.”
“We are sitting next to the greatest high-quality food market in the world,” pointed out CHE President Don McCormick.
The 25 county-owned acres CHE is eyeing also sit next to the now-closed county landfill, so the year-round greenhouses and 25,000-square-foot food distribution and processing center its proposing would also be joined by a plant able to convert the landfill’s methane gas into heat and electricity.
The energy would be used on site and sold to others, including NYSEG and Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris, said McCormick.
The organically grown food, from carrots and tomatoes to tilapia, would be sold to supermarket chains like ShopRite and Whole Foods, added McCormick’s business partner, Vermont Hydroponic General Manager Jeff Jones.
“This is the stuff they’re looking for,” he said, adding that the idea is not to compete with local farmers but to invite them to increase their profits by cooperatively selling their products to stores and large-scale buyers.
McCormick estimates Sullivan County itself could reap around $3.5 million over 30 years.
The $35 million project garnered unanimously favorable reviews from legislators, with David Sager calling it “phenomenal.”
Legislature Vice Chairman Elwin Wood agreed, even envisioning a creamery next door.
“I think that could be a catalyst, especially for small farmers,” noted Frank Armstrong.
“And I like that we finally have a proposal that captures the methane rather than burning it off,” said Alan Sorensen, in whose district the property sits.
But several legislators also noted that CHE only wants one of the three parcels up for development – the one closest to the landfill, which doesn’t include the original Apollo Mall.
So now they’re hoping the other two developers will work with CHE – and possibly each other – to initiate a vision encompassing the entire 400-acre site.
“I like the idea of having them sit down and play nice together,” remarked Ron Hiatt, who also felt the county should keep some space for itself and also for Re3 – one of the two developers earlier rejected by the Legislature based on the recommendation of a community committee.
But it seems unlikely either Chancellor-Livingston or Resnick Supermarket Equipment Corporation will be working together anytime soon.
Chancellor-Livingston developer Michael Kaplan said he offered Resnick owner Butch Resnick the most affordable space in a reconstructed Apollo Plaza but was told there was no interest by Resnick.
“We weren’t able to work out a satisfactory arrangement” with Kaplan, according to Resnick’s attorney, Jacob Billig.
At this point, however, Kaplan seems farther along than Resnick in discussions with CHE to incorporate the greenhouses and powerplant into the project.
“We can accommodate that,” Kaplan affirmed, stating he’d been talking about it with CHE for months, even to the point of helping finance their efforts. “... We will be there to help them make it an economic reality in the county.”
Starting anew
Kaplan, who was the original developer of what has now become the Monticello Motor Club, is proposing an up to 750,000-square-foot entertainment/retail complex with all-new buildings (including a multiplex cinema) where the Apollo currently sits.
“I submit to you that we are the answer to that master developer question,” he told legislators on Thursday.
Kaplan had initially submitted a proposal including more recreational uses, but feedback from the county turned his focus to retail, including two to three “big box” stores and some chain restaurants.
Kohl’s, he said, “is one of the retailers that has expressed some interest.”
At full buildout over several years, Kaplan estimates that 1,200 full-time jobs, $20 million a year in sales tax revenues and $500,000+ in annual rent would be created from the $65 million project.
“The county needs that, and the county needs that now,” he observed.
What Kaplan said he needs is a commitment from county officials, as the process of choosing a developer has already taken nine months, and he said his interested retailers are getting antsy.
“I have the financing lined up,” he promised, adding that he’s also experienced in developing malls and organic farms.
Kaplan stated his project was “the favorite” of a committee that informally reported to the Legislature earlier this month, but Legislator Jodi Goodman doubted such a retail-oriented plan could survive amidst a shrinking and impoverished population.
“We’re selling it on the fact that there is a vast unserved market up here,” Kaplan replied, explaining that 370,000 people potentially would find this mall closer than any other.
A hotel might also be included, he said, but only if a casino arrives nearby.
Legislators didn’t seem averse to Kaplan’s proposal, but some felt it was too ambitious.
“I’m afraid that pie-in-the-sky growth is not going to happen,” assessed Legislator Leni Binder.
“So kick me off the property if I don’t perform,” Kaplan told legislators, saying he’s interested in a 99-year lease that satisfies the county’s concerns.
Resnick vows to be faster
Legislators like Kathy LaBuda and Goodman said they liked Resnick’s plan, mostly because it could be quicker – and because he says he’s already got the cash for the lease payments to the county and the initial construction investment.
“We all along have seen the property as a retail space,” said Billig on Thursday, representing Resnick, who was at a meeting in New York City.
Billig claimed that his client could begin work in as little as 60 days, since Resnick’s plan is to rehab the existing Apollo structure rather than build new.
“This is several years in the making if you’re going to knock down that building,” he posited.
The roof would have to be redone, Billig acknowledged, but Resnick already has a plan to put a tracking solar array on the new roof.
As Resnick’s specialty is supermarket construction and outfitting, he’s already got a supermarket lined up to fill about 40,000 square feet of the 300,000-square-foot project, Billig added.
About 60 jobs would be created in the market, but how many more jobs would result or how much the county would see in revenue were not part of the presentation.
Kaplan did not feel that space can be rehabilitated, but Resnick’s architect, Joe Hurwitz, disagreed and felt confident he could repeat his past success of turning the old Grand Union into the Benmosche Building along Broadway in Monticello.
Resnick also has plans for a truck stop and hotel, but legislators seemed uncertain if they wanted the truck stop, and so Billig promised Resnick – a Sullivan County native and Glen Wild businessman – could be as flexible as the county desires.
Billig also promised affordable rents.
“We have to be able to offer really cheap retail space,” he explained, “and by rehabbing the existing building, we can do that.”
But that brought out a concern by Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis that the county, as the owner of the property, could potentially be in “unfair competition” with other in-county shopping plazas.
Billig promised Resnick would work collaboratively with the county – and even be willing to just take the Apollo and let the rest of the acreage go to someone else.
Resnick, he added, is not looking to be the master developer, unlike Kaplan.
What next?
A clear consensus on which developer to choose beyond CHE did not emerge Thursday, however. Neither did an exact timeline as to when such a decision might be reached.
Sorensen advocated for movement by next month, which found support from Rouis. He directed County Attorney Sam Yasgur to immediately meet with the developers’ attorneys to begin hammering out a lease agreement that spells out each side’s responsibilities.
“We can’t let this linger on and on,” Rouis affirmed.

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