Coal has burned in Eastman Business Park for well over 100 years. But that is about to change, thanks to an $80 million investment by Recycled Energy Development LLC.
“It really is monumental. As you know, it’s not the cleanest stuff in the world,” said Craig Bennett, president of RED Rochester, EBP’s utility owner and operator. “That is a construction project that started about a year ago and is about 80 percent done. We expect to be fully off of coal and onto natural gas on or about Dec. 1 of this year.”
A new utility infrastructure owner, and its focus on the switch from coal to natural gas, makes the park attractive to environmentally conscious clients, said Tim Palmer, vice president of Eastman Business Park division and corporate real estate for Eastman Kodak Co.
“There are companies who are very conscious of the environment and they have a strong sense of corporate responsibility, and for some of them the idea of being associated with a facility that uses coal was a nonstarter,” Palmer said, noting also that coal as an energy source is not as efficient as gas. “The control of it isn’t as precise as with gas, and because of that there’s economic efficiencies because you’re not using as much fuel to service your plant.”
With the utility structure’s change came the desire for RED Rochester—owned by Ironclad Energy Partners, a joint venture of Ironclad Energy Ventures LLC and Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners—and park officials to find businesses and industries most suited to the park’s assets. Enter Global Location Strategies, a Greenville, S.C., based site selection firm that recently completed a study of the campus to determine the top four industries best suited for the Greece location.
“They came up with a list of 20, which was narrowed to 12, then narrowed to four. So their conclusion was, listen, you could spend a lot of time on this treadmill called industrial sales cycle, but we believe your time is best spent going after the following four sectors: plastics, downstream chemicals, food and biopharmaceutical,” Bennett said.
That’s not to say a manufacturer well outside those four industries would not benefit from locating at EBP, Bennett added, but in GLS’ judgment and experience, the best use of park officials’ time and energy would be within those four industry sectors.
The reasons are many, GLS officials noted. The 1,200-acre industrial park has an abundant supply of fresh, reliable water—EBP is permitted to draw up to 54 million gallons of water per day from Lake Ontario.
The campus also has strong transportation access and intermodal facilities, with Interstate 390 and Interstate 490 in close proximity to the location. The site has Class-1 railroad service, with daily service connection to both CSX Transportation and Genesee & Wyoming Railroad’s Rochester & Southern Railroad. A 16-mile intermodal rail yard is capable of delivering an assortment of products to manufacturers located at EBP.
GLS also noted the park’s close proximity to customers and end users. Serving the Northeast U.S. market, the site is located within 500 miles of one-third of the U.S. and Canadian population, allowing manufacturers to ship product quickly and cost-efficiently to customers and end users.
A qualified workforce also was among EBP’s assets, GLS officials said. The tremendous population density of the region provides ample access to skilled workers. In particular, GLS noted, was the fact that Monroe Community College operates the Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center at Eastman Business Park to provide manufacturing-oriented programs and skilled trades training within classroom and lab space.
Finally, and of the most interest to RED Rochester, was GLS’ acknowledgment of the built-in utilities access and infrastructure at EBP. The location has a dedicated utility system onsite that includes 117 megawatts of firm electricity supply, high- and low-pressure steam capacity, natural gas, nitrogen, high-purity water and chill water supply and an industrial wastewater treatment facility.
Prior to Eastman Kodak Co.’s 2012 bankruptcy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued air quality standards for coal-fired boilers, among other things. Compliance with those standards would have cost millions of dollars, more than Kodak was able or willing to spend.
“With every passing year and the obligation of … shutting those coal boilers down, Kodak realized, because we’re in bankruptcy and we don’t have close to $100 million to get that done, it’s probably prudent for us to sell these assets,” Bennett explained.
RED Rochester purchased the utility assets of the park from Kodak out of bankruptcy in September 2013.
“Concurrent with our purchase of the assets was an obligation to fund and execute that transition of shutting down the coal boilers and replacing them with natural gas boilers,” Bennett added.
EBP’s coal boilers were built and operated at a time when 60,000 people were running the park, Bennett noted.
“So another benefit of what’s happening is that the new boiler house that we’re building is properly sized for the current loads in the park and some room for growth that we hope to benefit from over time as Kodak tries to sell off a lot of its property and lease some of its vacant buildings,” he explained.
EBP has a multiyear redevelopment plan, Palmer said, the start of which could be seen with the recent lighting of the new marquee at Kodak Center Theater, formerly Theater on the Ridge. Kodak Center and the ON Semiconductor facility at EBP will serve to anchor new development in the eastern-most portion of the park.
That area along the Genesee River, Palmer noted, includes a 28-acre parking lot north of West Ridge Road between Maplewood Drive and Lake Avenue. It is prime land, he said, because of its proximity to the Genesee Riverway Trail and Maplewood Park.
“And to the north it borders where AIM Photonics is going to go. So the thought is, as the photonics industry grows, we’re going to have to have offices, we’ll have to have manufacturing facilities, we’ll need restaurants, a hotel,” Palmer said. “There’s going to be things that are needed in the area and we have the space to suit those needs.”
RED Rochester’s hope is to transform the EBP from what it was 50 years ago into an industrial park that attracts world-class customers to fill the park’s vacant space. RED Rochester right now provides 16 different utility services to 110 customers across EBP.
“We hope to build upon the number of customers we have and expand our business,” Bennett said. “As you might expect, when we purchased the assets we purchased them at a price that even if that broader dream does not fulfill itself, the investment still made sense with its existing customer base.”
EBP officials are working with PathStone Corp., a nonprofit community development organization, to build a 300-unit housing development at the corner of Dewey Avenue and Eastman Avenue. Both that development and plans to develop the area near the river will feed the need for ancillary businesses such as restaurants, florists, insurance companies, gas stations and more, Palmer said.
“We work closely with the city, county and state, so we’re really conscious of the neighborhood that we’re in. We work here and we live here and we want it to be a great place, so we’re really interested in what the community has to say about what we do,” Palmer added. “And likewise, we care a lot about what the neighborhood is trying to do as well. We hope wherever possible we can complement each other’s efforts.”
And Ironclad and Stonepeak’s investment, through RED Rochester, makes a strong statement about the long-term viability of the park, Palmer said.
“What a great vote of confidence in the companies that are here and all the new companies that we’re looking to attract to have them make that investment,” he added.
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