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GOSHEN, NY-Orange County government is hoping to turn what was a controversial property that housed New York City’s homeless into a mixed-use development that will bring affordable housing and tax ratables to the area. The county has issued a Request for Proposals for the Camp LaGuardia property located just off Rte. 17 in Southern Orange County.

The government officials say the county hopes to secure proposals in the next few months that will propose mixed-use development on the 258-acre site that is located in the towns of Chester and Blooming Grove. Earlier this year, Orange County acquired the property from the City of New York for $8.5 million.

Established as a shelter for New York City’s homeless in 1934, the facility was built in 1918 and served as a correctional facility for women until 1934 when it was transferred to the city’s Welfare Department and named “Camp Greycourt.” The camp was renamed “Camp LaGuardia” in 1935.

Its purpose was to provide temporary relief for the unemployed. Prior to World War II and through the late 1950s, the camp included a 191-acre farm, which provided food for the residents, and up to 150 residents were assigned to work the farm. In its heyday, the camp housed more than 1,000 homeless men from New York City.

For years local residents and government leaders had tried unsuccessfully to convince New York City to shut down the shelter. However, last summer talks began between Orange County and the Administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding a possible closure and later a sale of the property to the county. The closure of Camp LaGuardia was announced last November as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s five-year plan to reduce homelessness in New York City by two-thirds by 2009.

Orange County executive Edward Diana says the deadline for RFP submittals is November 21. “We would like to pick a developer in early 2008, hoping some sort of action on the property will take place by late 2008,” he says.

While the RFP only states that “the subject area lends itself to a variety of commercial or residential use, senior workforce housing, corporate offices and agriculture business development,” County executive Diana says bringing tax ratables back to the property as well as significant job creation will be critical in the selection process.

“Workforce housing is something we are also very interested in,” Diana says, noting that with housing costs increasing in Orange County, municipal workers and schoolteachers are finding it difficult to find affordable housing in the county. The parcels are currently zoned for office park, agricultural, residential and manufacturing uses. The tax ratables issue is very important to the county and to the municipalities since they are currently losing approximately $1.1 million in combined taxes that were being paid by the City of New York.

Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership, the county’s chief economic development agency, says regional and national development firms have been solicited about the redevelopment opportunity. “I think the county really wants a mixed-use project there,” she says. “I think office, senior and workforce housing, I think that is the focus.” Another potential use for the site is some industrial development, Halahan, who is a member of the Camp LaGuardia Advisory Committee, adds.

The Camp LaGuardia property, now renamed the “Central Orange Development Area,” consists of approximately 18 buildings totaling 199,444 sf that date back as far as 1918 when the Main Building that totals 70,836 sf was built. Other structures were built in the 1930s and the newer facilities, such as the 43,460-sf Zanelli and 32,880-sf Pearl Building, were constructed over the past 20 years.

County executive Diana says the county has not decided whether it would prefer a sale of the property or to enter into a long-term lease with a developer or large user, noting that decision “will be driven by the proposals themselves.”

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