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Dan Hust | Democrat

From the left, developers Ken Tavares and Butch Resnick listen as their attorney, Jacob Billig, discusses the Apollo Plaza’s fate with county legislators.

Apollo’s future being decided

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 8, 2010 — Three developers vied for legislators’ attention at Thursday’s committee meetings.
All three are in the running to revitalize the former Apollo Plaza, now owned by the county. They’re part of a request-for-proposals (RFP) process the county has undertaken to determine who will be allowed to lease the acreage – possibly including the closed landfill and the space previously reserved for the now-cancelled Phase II landfill expansion.
The RFP method replaces the original intention to have developers and architects compete in a formal design contest.
“We found out running a design competition is extremely expensive,” noted Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon.
Now the plan is to put the proposals in front of the Legislature later this year, but Thursday’s presentations gave legislators a preview.
Glen Wild businessman Butch Resnick led off with drawings, images and even a small model of his plans, focusing on the Apollo and the Phase II acreage.
Although amenable to recreational uses of the adjoining landfill, Resnick said he is most interested in resurrecting the Apollo as an outlet center and adding a truck stop/tourist destination behind it.
“We want to keep some of those tax dollars here, and this mall is a great opportunity to do that,” he said, adding that the truck stop could provide 50 cents in taxes on every gallon of fuel sold.
Following Resnick was Michael Kaplan, who with business partner Henry Zabatta turned the old Monticello Airport into what eventually became the Monticello Motor Club.
Though they’re no longer involved in that project, Kaplan said he and Zabatta continue to partner and want to turn the entire Apollo/landfill parcel into an integrated recreational/retail complex.
He spent much of his presentation criticizing Resnick’s proposal, saying he and Zabatta had approached retailers when they had worked on the airport project, and none wanted to come to the area.
As for the Apollo, the duo proposes to site a minor league baseball team and fantasy camp on the property, with a hotel fronting Broadway.
Kaplan said they dropped an initial cinema idea but have kept auto-themed retail outlets as part of the plan – though the Apollo would be torn down, not rehabilitated, in their scenario.
“None of this stuff can be guaranteed,” he acknowledged but felt that it’s better than a slew of local retailers moving into an old building due to cheap rents.
Kaplan called a truck stop “the worst possible idea” because it would “shut down the gateway” to the village, but Jerry Orseck, a Liberty attorney representing a group of investors comprising the third developer, said his backers are interested in building just that.
“A truck stop would be highly, highly profitable,” said Orseck, basing that assessment on Route 17’s conversion to Interstate 86 and the coming upgrade of Exit 106 to a full interchange.
A 12-room motel and convenience store would be part of the mix, and only a portion of the Apollo would be torn down, leaving the two “bookend” buildings to be converted into repair garages.
Orseck, however, said a lease would be “impractical,” preventing his developer from gaining the needed financing.
Later, however, he promised the county that, like Resnick, his developer could begin work immediately and eventually employ more than 40 full-time workers.
A variety of public comments were offered after these presentations, with local union labor being urged, as well as an avoidance of retail in favor of recreation.
However, Monticello Deputy Village Manager John LiGreci told legislators the village leadership is in firm support of Resnick’s idea.
“You have to look at the practicalities of certain things,” he advised – tax impacts, speed of the construction process, funding availability.
Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, on the other hand, said it shouldn’t be a supermarket – and should be an all-or-nothing proposition.
“I think if we split it up in three pieces ... you’ll never see the rest developed,” he remarked. “Who the hell wants to develop on a landfill in this day and age?”
Legislators were urged to “think big,” but Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis replied that the county’s and developers’ dreams must be realistic.
“Too often in this county we get hung up on things that aren’t practical,” he noted, urging a balanced but quick-moving approach.
Legislator David Sager agreed, while Legislator Leni Binder urged the county to take more time in studying the plans – possibly undertaking a project involving more than one developer.
Legislator Jodi Goodman liked the retail idea but agreed the end result must be the product of careful crafting.
Legislator Alan Sorensen, in whose district the property sits, seemed more focused on research, as well, but he’s saving most of his thoughts for later.
“I think we need to respect the RFP process,” he said.
In the end, all legislators – minus an absent Ron Hiatt – agreed to proceed with that process. Aragon is expected to report back to the Legislature in July, though a decision may not be forthcoming until December

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