For six years, Erie County officials have been looking for ways to help local farmers develop new markets.
On Wednesday, that effort took a major step forward with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency agreeing to use $1.2 million in grant funding to acquire 240 acres of land at the site of the former Angola airport to create an agribusiness industrial park.
The project, which has been in the works for several years, has been slow to take shape, partly because of prolonged negotiations to acquire the land. But now that deals have been reached to acquire the site from a pair of property owners for $980,000, the project is ready to move forward.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the agribusiness park is a "key project" for the region because it will create a site with established infrastructure that could be quickly developed by companies looking to establish operations near Western New York farmers in the Southtowns.
"This will be a very desirable site," Poloncarz said. "We don't necessarily have dedicated locations for future development" of agricultural-related businesses.
In the best-case scenario, the site could turn out to be similar to what officials in Genesee County were able to create with an agribusiness park near Batavia that now is home to yogurt producers.
And while there's no guarantee that the site will be able to attract major employers, Poloncarz said having sites that are ready for construction is essential for the region to be even considered for that type of project.
The Evans site spans 240 acres on Eden-Evans Center Road, roughly the same size as the industrial park that the county is working to develop at the former Bethlehem Steel site. The property is near the Eden-Angola exit on the Thruway and also is close to major rail lines.
But developing the park will take time. Installing utilities, water and sewer systems, along with roads and other preparatory work, is expected to take two to three years, said John Cappellino, the IDA's executive director.
The IDA is providing up to $1.2 million in funding for the $1.36 million project. Erie County also has agreed to provide $155,000 in funding.
The privately owned airfield has been closed since 2002, when its owner filed for bankruptcy. Officials hope to use the former airport's runway as a main access road through the agribusiness park.