Eastman Business Park is either this community’s biggest asset or liability.
It’s an asset if the infrastructure is maintained and more companies move in. The largest industrial site in the Northeast can offer startups and manufacturers incredible facilities and expertise in material sciences and chemicals.
It’s a liability if no one is willing to continue the park’s development. Kodak’s power plant needs an estimated $40 million of work. Companies choose Eastman Business Park because of access to cheap power, as well as steam and cooling. Take any of those elements away, they will leave. We would have a 1,200-acre brownfield in the middle of the county.
Some companies are already talking about leaving even though no one knows how this will play out. Uncertainty is not a good thing in the business world.
Kodak should be credited for taking the complex as far as it did – spending $200 million to knock down old factories, “green” areas of the park and aggressively seek new tenants. Kodak apparently can’t do much more and wouldn’t mind unloading the complex.
Lt. Governor Robert Duffy talked at length Thursday about his efforts to assure existing tenants, recruit new tenants and find a buyer for the entire park. But he can’t provide all the necessary answers, as no one yet knows the cost of upgrades and who will pay. You can bet taxpayers will be involved.
“The state has made no commitment right now to that, but I don’t want to say it would never happen. I don’t know,” Duffy said. “Certainly the state did not want to come in and buy the park, be the landlord, but the state is working very hard to find an owner, somebody in the private sector to come in and work with local leaders.”
Duffy’s comments indicate the seriousness of this situation. The state got involved early and is actively trying to sell Kodak’s property.
“No one will even take the park as a gift,” said George Conboy of Brighton Securities. “They’re afraid of brownfield liabilities and everybody knows the film operation is not going to be there forever.”
Conboy said potential buyers will want the infrastructure upgraded, tax abatements and assurances they won’t have a hard time on environmental issues. Conboy wouldn’t be surprised if the price tag for taxpayers will far exceed $100 million.
The Kodak bankruptcy is undoubtedly the biggest local story of 2012 for its impact on workers, retirees, suppliers, shareholders and community pride. But don’t forget about Eastman Business Park. The consequences of not getting this right are severe.