To the editor:
One of the disadvantages of being poor is that you’re vulnerable to bad advice from others who take advantage of you. When you’re a poor village that once was very rich a hundred years ago, then that problem is compounded. You think it was somehow your fault that industry left town, and you don’t deserve something better.
Philmont has been struggling to get back on its feet ever since we moved here 30 years ago. The Village did a Comprehensive Plan and got a grant for a Brownfield Opportunity Act (BOA) nomination study, a planning grant. All three of us served on the Executive Steering Committee of the BOA study, 2012-2018. It was hard work, but stimulated ample input from Village residents and produced a report that is a source of pride and hope.
If you read both planning documents, you’ll see that Philmont residents gave ample input. They want good jobs and tax-paying businesses to come into the Village. The BOA study report gives details for the rehabilitation of specific areas related to Summit Lake, the Community Center located on Lakeview Drive, the Summit Mill, and the mill outbuildings and infrastructure on Canal Street. The stated recommendation for Canal Street was “light industrial and creative industry” (p. 151) including new buildings for business tenancy that would take up most of the vacant, unimproved space now used for parking.
We were surprised to learn that soon after the BOA study was published, two nonprofit organizations resurrected an old, discarded idea and lobbied the Village Board to repurpose the publicly owned brick mill building located at the foot of Canal Street as a theater, using donated materials and volunteer labor. This brick building, at the edge of the 100-foot escarpment and immediately adjacent to the old mill pond outflow (a steep, rocky watercourse), is in very poor condition.
The Board, apparently recognizing no other possibilities, agreed to lease this public property for one dollar per year for seven years. Further, they allowed the attorney for one of the nonprofits to write the lease, which extended the term to 21 years with a renewal option, plus full sublease rights. Are we so poor that we cannot exercise good business judgement?
While the idea of a theater is not bad, the location is wrong, even dangerous. To attract the general public to this particular area is a serious mistake. The escarpment is steep, rocky and wild. There is no way to fence off access to the cliff edge without making the area look like a medium security prison. The Village exposes itself to enormous liability with this decision. We get no rental payments and could be sued for millions — what a deal!
The worst aspect of the Board’s decision is that it completely precludes the more appropriate, income and tax-generating use of the space as envisioned in the BOA. Light industry already has a foothold on Canal Street, with three successful crafts businesses now occupying another brick mill building there.
The potential for restoration of local green industry, jobs and tax-paying businesses has never been greater than now. Rather than continue its string of business failures or turn itself into a nonprofit ghetto, Philmont can act now to build on its unique physical assets and generate economic renewal that serves the needs of people right here in the Village and County.
The authors are long-time Philmont residents and members of the High Falls Property Owners Association. All three were appointed by the Village to a six-member Executive Steering Committee of the Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) Nomination Study, 2012-2018, for the economic development of Philmont.