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June 4, 2021 - 10:10am

Town supervisor: Great Lakes Cheese representatives inquiring about Le Roy Food & Tech Park

Representatives of Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese have visited the Le Roy Food & Tech Park in recent days, exploring the possibility of building a $500 million processing plant at the location off Route 19 and West Bergen Road.

While an officer of the Genesee County Economic Development Center, which owns the park, would not confirm or deny contact with company leadership, Le Roy Town Supervisor James Farnholz this morning told The Batavian that Great Lakes Cheese personnel have been at the 75-acre site.

“Yes, they have been out there and have been in contact, but I don’t know what the status of their negotiations are with landowners. That’s out of our realm,” Farnholz said.

Great Lakes Cheese has been in the news lately as it was looking to expand its operation by locating the new plant in Allegany County, where is already has the Empire Cheese facility in Cuba. Its plans, however, may have been scrapped due to several issues, including a controversial eminent domain seizure of farmland.

Calls to Heidi Eller, company chairman of the board, have not been returned.

A 480,000-square-foot ‘Super Plant’

A report by WGRZ-TV stated the new plant would consist of 480,000 square feet and would mirror other “super plants” owned by GLC in Hiram, Ohio; Plymouth, Wis.; Fillmore, Utah; and Manchester, Tenn.

It also stated that “wherever it ends up would still be eligible for around $200 million in tax incentives over 20 years.”

Mark Masse, senior vice president of operations for the GCEDC, said agency policy prohibits him from commenting until a project application has been submitted.

“We can not comment on projects that may or may not be coming here unless we have an application in hand,” he said. “That has been our stance for a very long time.”

Masse did speak to a referral filed Wednesday with the Genesee County Planning Board by the Town of Le Roy to rezone seven parcels along Route 19 and Randall Road – totaling 185 acres – from R-2 (Residential) to I-2 (Industrial).

Rezoning Lines Up With Town’s Plan

The rezoning would conform with the town’s comprehensive plan’s goal of creating additional industrial uses and, according to documents filled out by Farnholz, “to address one of the town’s weaknesses – loss of jobs/commercial base.”

“Over the years, we have seen some interest in additional property and I think the town is just trying to be proactive to match the zoning with the Le Roy Food & Tech Park in case the project seeks more acreage than is available there,” Masse said. “Our Ag Park (on East Main Street Road in Batavia) is almost sold out at this point, so the larger acreage projects wouldn’t be able to locate there.”

According to the referral, by rezoning the parcels (mainly farmland), it would set the stage for “a potential opportunity for a cheese manufacturing plant (and) would conform to the comprehensive plan.”

Although the referral mentions “a cheese manufacturing plant,” Farnholz said that everything is at the inquiry stage.

Farnholz: Nothing is on the Table

“Nothing is on the table at this point and we are not making specific preparation for anybody. Great Lakes Cheese has made inquiries but we don’t have anything definite. We’re not doing anything for Great Lakes Cheese,” he said.

Farnholz said that land in question should have been rezoned to Industrial years ago to match the property owned by the GCEDC. He also said that a separate parcel, which has a funeral home on it and is operating under a special use permit, would be rezoned to Industrial as well.

“This has been on the table for quite some time,” he said. “Our discussions over the comprehensive plan to expand industrial development along the Route 19 corridor predates anything that is happening now.”

The supervisor said that the town has not spent any money, noting that all of the properties would have to be purchased by Great Lakes Cheese or any other business, with the exception of the GCEDC, which owns the 75 acres off West Bergen Road.

“Any remaining acreage would have to be privately purchased,” he said.

Setting the Stage for Development

He said that if the Great Lakes Cheese plant did not come to Le Roy, rezoning the properties “would just make it more practical for future industrial development. But, again, this is all contingent upon people willing to sell their property.”

The park, which has been in existence for about four years, does not have any businesses yet, Farnholz said.

“Right now, it’s just farmland. The GCEDC leases out their acreage to farmers and the rest of it is just woods and farmland. Down by Randall Road, there’s a group that is grinding up wood and making mulch – that’s the only thing that resembles a business,” he said.

While not a done deal, a $500 million venture in Le Roy would make a significant impact on the local economy.

“Having read many of the articles talking about the project in Allegany County, they were talking about a $500 million plant that would employ up to 400 people, so I would welcome that with open arms,” Farnholz said.

BioWorks to Purchase 60 Acres

In a related development, Masse reported that the GCEDC Board of Directors Thursday approved a purchase and sale agreement with BioWorks Inc. to buy 60 acres at the Le Roy Food & Tech Park for $2.4 million.

“They still would need to forward an application for incentives, which I believe they will be bringing forward,” Masse said. “Last night’s action allows the company to do their due diligence on the site prior to closing to ensure their project can be completed.”

BioWorks Inc. is a national company with a regional office in Victor, is looking to expand its operation.

According to its website, it develops and markets biologically based solutions for customers in the horticulture and specialty agriculture markets. Its products – effective alternatives or additions to traditional chemical programs -- support plant nutrition, disease control, insect control and soil amendment.

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