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New York must do a better job of soliciting businesses to lease Knox Farm State Park

Some may celebrate news that the lone proposal to open a brewery in the decaying historic stable barns of Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora has been rejected.

The announcement by state officials will surely be met with glee in certain circles. Of course, the lone bidder, Julie Ciolek of Aurora, would disagree with that sentiment. So might others who, given the second chance, would like to throw in their own bid.

All that may be washed away now that the state is back to square one. The key concern is caring for a state park that has been in extreme disrepair for some time. This cannot be the last and final attempt to bolster a place that is near and dear to the hearts of many who use it. State officials have to figure something else out and the sooner the better.

Knox Farm had been deteriorating for quite some time. The state bought the former estate 16 years ago for $5.2 million. In 2012, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation that seemed as though it would provide the much-needed lifeline. It would draw private interest in rehabilitating and maintaining parts of the sprawling site.

The legislation doubled to 40 years the time that buildings and facilities, including parcels of open land, can be leased. Business operators would be incentivized to plow a good portion of money into capital improvements.

So it should have been no surprise when the state sought a private partner to invest up to $1 million “to improve, repurpose and manage the decaying historic horse barns, stables and other buildings,” as The News reported in August, as it relates to 80 of the park’s 633 acres.

The state went searching for proposals from companies for a “microbrewery, winery or distillery.” The intent was to get potential bidders to fashion their proposals to pair with the state’s Taste NY program, which promotes foods and beverages made in the state. As part of the lengthy contract, whether only 10 years or 40, the state required $25,000 a year from the new manager, plus a minimum of 5 percent of any gross revenue generated.

Curiously, on July 21, the deadline for bids, state parks officials said they received only one proposal – from Ciolek. Her husband, Lenny Ciolek, is the founder of McKenzie’s Hard Cider. He told The News that his wife’s proposal pledged to invest $539,000 in capital projects at the park over three years in return for a 10-year renewable lease. The couple insisted they wanted to restore the former farm’s original luster, in addition to crops such as “hops, apples, pumpkins, barley and corn.”

Following the proposal’s rejection, the state must figure out how to achieve its stated goal of “revitalizing the historic barns and encouraging equestrian or farm-based activities.” One idea might involve issuing guidelines that make it crystal clear the type of operations they would or would not want to see happen. And making sure the net being tossed is not only wide but deep so as to offer more than one choice.

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