Five locations in Orange County, New York, are suitable to be developed into the county’s first-ever conference center, according to a recently released third-party feasibility study.
The five sites are the former Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center property in the Town of Tuxedo, a former railroad site along Interstate Highway 84 in the Village of Maybrook, a large piece of farmland near the county jail in the Town of Goshen, the Orange County Fairgrounds in the Town of Wallkill, and the former New York City homeless shelter Camp La Guardia in the town of Chester.
The first three locations are considered primary sites because of existing attachments to developers.
Earlier this year, the county engaged the Chicago-based Johnson Consulting firm to delve into the subject, which had been floating around for some years. The urgency heightened, especially following the closure of Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor, according to Steve Gross, director of the Orange County Office of Economic Development.
“It was the unofficial conference center in Orange County,” Mr. Gross told The Epoch Times. “Its closure—though we are thrilled that it is still active as an economic driver as a movie studio—has left a void in the conference center space in our county, big time.”
County Tourism Director Amanda Dana told The Epoch Times that another driver of the conference center idea was to boost mid-week stays at local hotels.
“Our hotels are almost 100 percent booked on weekends during the tourism season,” Ms. Dana said, noting that since most conferences operate on weekdays, they could be the perfect supplement to the current visitor cycle in Orange County.
“With all the post-COVID growth in our county and the surge in tourism and hospitality, we think we are in a good position for a conference center,” Mr. Gross said. “And we didn’t want just to determine that ourselves; we wanted to hire an independent third-party expert to validate that for us.”
The third-party expert, paid for by a state grant, validated a strong market opportunity for such facilities and identified two viable options for the county: a high-end corporate retreat venue and a multi-purpose conference center.
It also demonstrated its objectivity as a third-party firm, as it rated unfavorably the first four locations recommended by the county based on its own scoring sheet.
Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, Resorts World Hudson Valley, New York Stewart International Airport, and Galleria at Crystal Run aren’t deemed ideal for conference centers by the firm based on factors such as hotel concentration, proximity to restaurants, and room for surface parking.
Middletown and HotelsThe Middletown area emerged as having one of the best ecosystems for such venues.
“As we peeled back the union and looked at where all the accommodations are in retail and commercial, Middletown makes a lot of sense at the crossroads of Route 17 and Interstate Highway 84,” Ms. Dana said.
Mr. Gross said, “When you look at the whole county, Middletown has got probably the biggest clustering density of hotels.”
As for the county’s hotel inventory, Johnson Consulting found it insufficient, especially when it comes to large room blocks often required by conferences, although it does recognize a healthy hotel pipeline.
Nearly 2,000 hotel rooms are in different development stages in Orange County, which, when built, will increase the total county inventory by almost half. The only downside to the pipeline is that most new hotels are still too small to accommodate large room blocks.
“We hear them loud and clear,” Ms. Dana said. “We need more hotel rooms, especially those with 100 rooms and above.”
The firm recommended that a new conference center incorporate on-site lodging that can accommodate hundreds of attendees in addition to utilizing existing hotels.
Mr. Gross referred to the third-party study as a successful perc test that might lead to a willing developer or a private-public partnership to act on the viable idea.
Ms. Dana said the county might consider another study to delve deeper into potential sites and funding mechanisms to take it to the next phase.
The end goal, according to both Mr Gross and Ms. Dana, is to drive up tax revenues through such developments to alleviate taxpayer burdens and improve the quality of life in Orange County.