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Chautauqua IDA buys former ConAgra facility in Dunkirk, seeks tenant

The former ConAgra facility in Dunkirk has been bought by the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, which is working to find a tenant.

The CCIDA paid $1.675 million late Friday to buy the 9.5-acre property at 26 Talcott St. from ConAgra, putting the land and its 244,000-square-foot facility in the agency’s hands to maintain and market it for future use.

ConAgra Foods of Omaha, Neb., bought the former Carriage House Co. plant as part of its $5 billion purchase of St. Louis-based Ralcorp in March 2013 but announced a year later that it would close the plant in Dunkirk and another in Fredonia, cutting 425 jobs, because of disappointing results.

The jobs and work are being consolidated elsewhere, and Chautauqua County leaders were worried about what would happen to the two large properties. The goal of the unusual purchase – the CCIDA doesn’t typically buy and manage property – was to ensure that it wouldn’t just sit vacant or be turned into a vast warehouse that wouldn’t generate much employment.

The agency is already in “active negotiations” with other manufacturers to occupy the building, maximize use of it to its full potential and create desperately needed new jobs in the city, according to an agency news release.

“We’re actively in discussion with interested parties in that building,” said Richard E. Dixon, chief financial officer for the CCIDA. “We want to bring jobs back to that building. We just didn’t want someone to come in and do warehousing.”

CCIDA partnered with Chautauqua County, which purchased a $2 million bond that was issued by the agency to finance the purchase.“We felt that by buying the building, it put us in the best opportunity to make sure it’s used for its highest and best use,” Dixon said.

Dixon would not identify any of the potential users or even say what industry they’re in, other than manufacturing, but a bakery or similar food service business may be one possibility. The sprawling facility still contains 16 64,000-gallon tanks used to store liquids for the food industry, said Richard J. Schechter of Pyramid Brokerage Co., who represented ConAgra in the deal along with three other brokers from Pyramid.

Dixon also said that he did not know when a deal might be reached but that “I hope we’ll soon have an announcement.”

In the meantime, he said, ConAgra signed a lease with the agency to continue occupying the building, using its freezer space, through the end of May, so “they won’t be completely out of the facility.”

“We’re excited about that goal, and we’re excited about that building, and we’re excited about getting someone in there soon,” Dixon said.

Meanwhile, Pyramid Brokerage continues to market the separate ConAgra facility in Fredonia. Dixon said that “there continues to be interest” in that property, and officials have worked with the company and brokers to follow up on some leads. At the same time, New York State is conducting a study, funded by Empire State Development Corp., to evaluate the property and determine the best use for it.

Dixon said the county hopes to get a final report by the end of the first quarter.