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Landowner revives plan for agricultural park at Baggs Corner in Hounsfield

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Discussions are underway to revive plans for a sprawling agricultural park at Baggs Corner in Hounsfield, which developers say could spur investment and job creation for the region.

The initial plans from Robbins Farm came undone in 2003, but not before Bridge Associates, Adams, completed a lengthy study.

Interest in the study was renewed in February during discussions about the planned business park near the Watertown International Airport.

Tentative plans are for the agricultural park to be built on 20 to 30 acres at routes 3 and 180 owned by Ronald C. Robbins, who owns Robbins Farms.

Peter B. Bryant, economic development coordinator for the town and Chamber of Commerce, said there are still several aspects to decide before the project can move forward, such as the park’s layout.

However, initial interest from businesses such as North Country Farms and Black River Cattle Co. to operate there and interest from Albany for agricultural development were signs the time was right to renew the project.

“I think when people learn about this there will be some interest in it,” he said.

Mr. Robbins said he acquired about 300 acres at the site last year, which meant the park could grow depending on interest. He plans to approach the project with cautious optimism as more decisions must be made about what will anchor the park.

“As long as there’s excitement around agriculture, I think this is going to be a great opportunity and it could lead to some great things,” he said.

Mr. Bryant said smaller farming operations could improve their products by working with the larger farms and using their distribution chains.

“You may have the best product in the world, but if you don’t have that pipeline people will never know it exists,” Mr. Bryant said.

He cited North Country Farms’ expansion of its distribution throughout the state and New England as an example of the larger market possibilities for local farms. Several farmers, including Mr. Robbins, have also found success growing soybeans for distribution in China.

Mr. Bryant said he has been in discussions with James Ma, a Chinese developer with several business interests in the Ogdensburg area, about pursuing further trade projects as well as educational opportunities for students at the park. He said the project could also draw interest from Chinese investors through the Employment-Based Immigration: Preference 5 program, which attracts loans of $500,000 or more for job growth from foreign investors in exchange for green cards.

Though he did not offer specifics about potential job growth at the park, Mr. Bryant pointed out a similar park in Batavia generated about 800 jobs for yogurt and mushroom-growing operations on the site.

Other parties that could be interested in the park, Mr. Bryant said, are school and university groups, which could use the space to develop young talent in the field.

Mr. Bryant said plans are for the site to use renewable sources of energy such as biomass and solar to help it become self-sustaining. The planned combination of agriculture and sustainable energy facilities, Mr. Bryant said, could make the site a tourist attraction.

Mr. Bryant said the transition from an ad-hoc committee to a formal steering committee for the project will be finalized shortly, which will help determine the cost to update the 2003 study. Also in the works is a plan to pair private donations with grants through the state’s Consolidated Funding Application process. More details on that process may be projected toward the end of May or in early June.

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