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Tupper Lake’s OWD project gets $2.5M state grant

TUPPER LAKE — The Oval Wood Dish factory rehabilitation project just got a $2.5 million boost from the state, but it’s still got a ways to go before the estimated $30 million redevelopment breaks ground.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Monday, Nov. 22 that the state will distribute $81 million in Regional Economic Development Council funds for 97 priority projects across the state. She pitched the REDC money as a way to help the state recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

An Empire State Development grant for $2.5 million was awarded to OWD Development, LLC, “to redevelop a blighted former manufacturing facility into a new mixed-use development site.”

“This initial round of priority projects was recommended by each Regional Council because of their project readiness and alignment with each region’s strategic plan,” a press release from Hochul’s office reads.

“This is great, great news,” Tupper Lake village Mayor Paul Maroun said Monday.

The project

On April 13, Syracuse-based Lahinch Group, owned by Joe Gehm and Michael Dunyk, bought the OWD property with its 110,000-square-foot building complex and iconic smokestack for $1 million from Norman Bobrow.

Gehm and Dunyk plan to fill the eight-building complex with mixed-income apartments, market-rate apartments, offices and businesses — housing up front, business in the back.

They plan to build 92 apartments in total — two-thirds mixed-income apartments geared toward “entry-level workforce housing,” and one-third market-rate apartments geared toward wealthier renters.

Maroun said they need state Housing Finance Agency and housing approval so they can get tax credits. Maroun said that last week, he and Gehm met with state Assemblyman Billy Jones to get him to ask the HFA commissioner to approve this project.

He said he hopes the redevelopment will begin in late spring next year.

There’s a lot of work to be done inside. There’s water dripping from the ceiling in several buildings, broken windows and graffiti on the walls. Currently, the floor is cluttered with pieces of crumbling walls, dirt, glass, puddles and bird poop — lots and lots of bird poop and feathers. There’s a red-tailed hawk that hunts the pigeons that roost there.

History

Built in 1916 as a new headquarters for the Oval Wood Dish company, the construction of the building itself employed hundreds of people. The first log was cut in 1918 and by 1940 the factory employed one-tenth of Tupper Lake’s population, over 500 people.

Some of these employees lived in a community across the street on the shore of Raquette Pond, called Sissonville. The factory had a gymnasium where employees and their families would play sports.

The factory produced a wide range of wooden products, including its namesake: oval wooden dishes. Over the years it also produced clothespins, bowling pins, tongue depressors, furniture pieces, commercial veneer, hardwood flooring, popsicle sticks and the popular wooden spoons that came with cups of ice cream.

The OWD factory closed in 1964.

From 2003 to 2008, Jarden Plastics Solutions Inc. used the factory to make plastic items such as eating utensils and poker chips before closing. Since then, the building’s been mostly used for storing boats and cars.

In September 2020, the New York State Board of Historic Preservation recommended the factory for the state and national Registers of Historic Places. Having a historic designation can lead to tax credits and grants as a trade-off for limits on what can be altered in construction.