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Plans in place to develop former prison, but when?
During a Beacon City Council meeting last month, Mark Roland chided city officials for the stalled development of the former Beacon Correctional Facility, also known as Camp Beacon.
“The plan was always pie in the sky, and it grows more so every day,” the Beacon resident said during a public comment period. “It’s time to stop relying on outside developers and reclaim some of Beacon for its citizens.”
He was referring to an Urban Green Food proposal to create a “bike farm” at the site with a hotel and courtyard, indoor track-and-field venue and arena for indoor cycling known as a velodrome. A farming incubator, along with dozens of acres of farmland and bike trails, is also part of the plan.
The state’s economic development agency, Empire State Development, in 2019 selected Urban Green Food, based in New York City, to redevelop the 39-acre former women’s prison. The state is also offering $6 million in funding, but that requires a separate application and is subject to the project receiving local and state approval.
New York first asked for proposals for the property in 2014, a year after the prison was closed. (Before the prison opened in 1981, the site was home to the Matteawan State Hospital.) The state received only one proposal, from The Doe Fund, also based in New York City, which wanted to create a farming and job-training center to help homeless and low-income people seek employment and self-sufficiency.
The Doe Fund withdrew its proposal in 2017 after local officials — including then-Mayor Randy Casale, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and state Sen. Sue Serino — asked then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reject it. They argued it had evolved from an economic development plan to one “inconsistent with the site’s mixed-use, recreational and destination development potential.”
After being awarded development rights in the second go-round, Eric Anderson, the founder of Urban Green Builders, the parent company of Urban Green Food, spoke to the City Council in 2019 about his proposal. The track-and-field facility could attract major athletic events, filling the hotel, he said, while the velodrome and trails would bring bike-friendly infrastructure to Beacon.
“The opportunities to use this site — I don’t think I’ve imagined them all yet,” Anderson said.
Nearly three years later, with no news of progress, Roland on July 5 suggested that Beacon should “tell the state that we are taking over” the property “to grow food and make things, create alternative career paths for our kids and build some resilience into our economy” that doesn’t rely on tourism.
Anderson said last fall that he anticipated bringing his project to the Beacon Planning Board sometime in 2022. That hasn’t happened, and the project isn’t on the Planning Board’s Aug. 9 agenda, although Anderson said in an email this week that his timeline has not changed. He declined to discuss other details.
Camp Beacon, the largest available undeveloped tract in the city, sits a block off Matteawan Road between Beacon High School and the Fishkill Correctional Facility. Therein lies its greatest hindrance — access — especially after the Correctional Facility last year prohibited most vehicles from using the portion of Matteawan that runs through prison property, leaving the other end of the road as the only way in or out.
Mayor Lee Kyriacou says he isn’t concerned about the delays, noting that many may be pandemic-related. More important is a plan Kyriacou has pitched to the state that would “change the nature of what you could do on that site,” he said.
Under Kyriacou’s plan, a road would be constructed from Route 52, diverging near the long driveway that leads to the Chemprene manufacturing facility, winding around the perimeter of the prison’s land and connecting with Matteawan Road, creating another point of entry to Camp Beacon.
Kyriacou said this week that he has had discussions with Anderson and Empire State Development about the road and expects to have further talks with the state Department of Corrections and the Beacon City School District. For the proposal to move forward, he hopes the state will provide its $6 million for the road.
As far as what ultimately occupies the site, Kyriacou believes affordable housing and commercial business space are Beacon’s most pressing needs. While neither of Empire State Development’s recent calls for proposals focused specifically on those needs, there is already housing in the vicinity. The Meadow Ridge developments on Matteawan Road offer low-income housing, some of it for seniors; another low-income senior development, Highland Meadows, is on nearby Hastings Road.
There’s little commercial space available in Beacon, certainly none as vast as Camp Beacon.
“My focus is on doing the one thing that would change the potential for that site, which is road access,” Kyriacou said. “Anything that follows that would be a big plus.”