Oswego County: Redevelopment of former Miller Brewery, expansion of industrial park among top projects for 2023

By Ken Sturtz

TDJ Properties, a company controlled by businessman Michael Tormey’s family, purchased a 67-acre portion of the former Miller Brewery in Volney in March 2022 for $5.5 million. They plan is to renovate 786,000 square feet of space, mostly the main building at the complex, over the next few years and lease it to companies for warehousing and manufacturing.

Ever since it closed 30 years ago, economic developments officials have been trying to redevelop the site, with varying degrees of success. Most of the proposed business ventures there haven’t panned out over the long term and the massive main building had gone unused for so long that portions of the roof had rotted away.

The Tormey family has already proven their strategy on a smaller scale. Over the last two years, they purchased and renovated the former can-making plant just north of the Miller complex. An electrical parts distributor signed a lease and plans to move into the 130,000-square-foot space this spring.

The investment will save the building from the wrecking ball and create a large amount of versatile space close to where semiconductor manufacturer Micron plans to build a plant.

“That’s really going to be an exciting and hot project in 2023,” said Austin Wheelock, executive director of Operation Oswego County. “It’s going to be a huge opportunity and huge selling point for Oswego County.”

Industrial park expansion and Wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Phoenix

The 135-acre L. Michael Treadwell Oswego County Industrial Park just off of Route 481 in Schroeppel has been slowly filling up with businesses over the years. But when EJ USA took a major parcel to build a 71,000-square-foot fabrication facility a few years ago, it became obvious that the industrial park was running out of space.

So economic development officials went looking for land to expand the park. After several years of negotiations, the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency bought 185 acres of adjacent land in 2021 for $1.1 million. In a stroke of good luck, the land was purchased before Micron announced it was building 10 miles away.

“That’s going to be a big priority in 2023, getting it shovel ready,” Wheelock said.

Economic development officials are now in the process of securing the money to prepare the site and build it out for new development.

“It’s not just investing in strategic sites, but it’s also investing in infrastructure,” Wheelock said.

The wastewater treatment plant in the village of Phoenix provides sewer service to the industrial park and needs to be upgraded. Oswego County and the county IDA have each pledged $1 million to help with the upgrades and the town of Schroeppel is exploring building its own treatment plant to support further growth in the area.

“That’s going to be critical not just to business growth but to residential growth in southern Oswego County,” Wheelock said.

Business incubator at former Nestle site

The county IDA owns a 3-acre parcel at the site of the former Nestle chocolate works in Fulton and Operation Oswego County plans to develop a facility to serve as a business incubator for startups, Wheelock said.

Environmental studies are ongoing for the site, which is one of the last hurdles to the project getting off the ground, hopefully later this year.

The IDA committed about $2 million developing the building and New York state committed roughly $1.7 million. But the construction estimates for the project were from before the COVID-19 pandemic and costs have since skyrocketed. Officials are currently working to fill the resulting funding gap.

Economic development officials envision a 30,000-square-foot building with flexible, modern industrial space that can be used to attract small startup manufacturers and then let them grow.

“We’re looking to try to focus it toward businesses in that sector,” Wheelock said, adding that the startup businesses would not have to be in manufacturing.

Tenant businesses could also include companies doing research and development, specialty logistics or supply chain work.

Wheelock said the timing of the incubator initiative lines up well with the investments related to the Fulton Downtown Revitalization Initiatives and the buildout nearby of Micron’s chip plant and will create opportunities for housing, industry and beautification in Fulton.

Port of Oswego

Container at the port of Oswego

Although sometimes overlooked by the public, the Port of Oswego is a key asset for economic development in the region.

“It’s a unique asset that Oswego County has over most of New York state,” Wheelock said.

The Port of Oswego is the state’s only commercial port on the Great Lakes and has been on the upswing recently. Last year it handled more than 581 million tons of cargo, a 300% increase from 2021. About 60% of that cargo came from 77 ships, but the port also moves cargo by truck and rail. Many companies rely on the port to move their cargo, such as grains, aluminum, salt, fertilizer, petroleum and windmill parts.

Projects at the port include the opening in 2023 of its $15 million Regional Agricultural. With it, the port can store up to 22,00 metric tons of grain and has a USDA grain testing lab on site.

The port and harbor have also seen several other infrastructure projects begin or be announced. Those include the reconstruction of the west pier retaining wall and dock, a $4 million investment, and $7 million in east dock upgrades. A more than $2 million project for a new deep-water marina near West First Street is slated to begin soon.

Last year the port signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps. Of Engineers to deepen

Oswego Harbor, making it accessible to the largest container ships. And late last year the federal government announced it was providing nearly $18 million for badly needed repairs to the entire harbor breakwater and the foundation of the West Pierhead Lighthouse.

Existing business expansion

While economic development officials in recent years have made it a priority to invest in strategic sites that can attract new companies and building the infrastructure to support them, companies already located in Oswego County are still important to the area’s economy.

“We are working with existing businesses that are expanding,” Wheelock said, noting that Novelis and Felix Schoeller were two examples.

Novelis is investing more than $340 million over the next few years at its massive plant in Scriba to construct new buildings and modernize its facilities for current and future use.

“They’re making investments that are going to make them competitive overall and lead to long-term investment in Oswego County,” Wheelock said. “This is massive and it’s extremely important.”

Felix Schoeller is a German-owned specialty paper manufacturing company with a facility in Richland. It has mostly been using that facility for paper converting, but with a $24 million investment the company will get back into paper coating, mostly for the healthcare industry.

The investment will include adding a new manufacturing line that will add about 30 full-time jobs and support about 140 existing jobs.

“They’re making investments in infrastructure that will allow them to continue to grow,” Wheelock said. “This project could potentially lead to future projects.”