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Whenever one door closes…

November 17, 2011

As reported in last week’s newspaper, the board of the Sullivan West Central School District has returned developer Ilwon Kang’s deposit on the Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley school properties. That marks the end of one deal. But it should be remembered that the Kang offer—which would have involved the purchase of the properties by outside investors described as belonging to the entertainment and recreation industry—was one of two the board received back in November of 2010. Indeed, there was considerable contention at the time as to whether it should be preferred over another deal put forth by local Dick Riseling, a sustainable energy and local agriculture activist. Though the original Riseling offer per se is not still on the table, we think it may provide an alternative model that should be reconsidered.

We have argued more than once on this editorial page against a certain type of local planning mindset that seems to favor infatuations with wealthy corporate outsiders over the encouragement of in-county, bootstraps development. The demise of the Kang deal—of which there have been intimations for months, ever since the never-concluded sale of the school field on Kirk Road, whose failure was never really publicly explained—is a reminder that however plausible and attractive such outside investment might seem, it is not necessarily always the wisest way to go.

Riseling’s plan gives us one model of what an alternative might look like. As described by him in an op-ed dated December 30, 2010, his plan for the Narrowsburg school, based on more than 30 conversations with local organizations and businesses, was “to create a venue that was simultaneously a locus for community services and a tourist destination.” It would have included sports opportunities, performances in the gym-stage complex, lease of the kitchen for community food fabrication and classes, a micro-creamery, “rent of rooms for music practice; offices and educational space for environmental and other civic groups; craft and art cooperatives; a year-round farmers’ market; and retail space for the sale of products produced by the tenants.”

Financially, the plan was presented as a two-year lease-purchase, in which the syndicate would have taken over all maintenance expenses and made payments to the school district starting immediately, with a contractual guarantee that at the end of that period, all units and the school as a whole would be completely bought out and ownership transferred.