Downtown Troy businesses expected to benefit from former hotel’s transformation

By KENNETH C. CROWE II, Staff writer

Photos by Will Waldron

First published in print: Saturday, May 16, 2009

TROY — Businesses expect to benefit from the 300 students living downtown in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s new dorm this fall.

And RPI’s decision to run a shuttle bus to the new Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Residence Commons on Sixth Avenue near Broadway will provide easy access for students up on the main campus.

“It’s fantastic. I gives RPI students a real stronghold down here,” said Elizabeth Young, executive director of the Troy Downtown Collaborative.

RPI opened the dorm Friday. The students will move in this August for the start of the university’s 2009-10 school year.

The university spent $17 million to acquire the former Best Western Inn hotel property and transform it into student residences. The rebuilding phase of the project cost $8 million to strip the building down to a shell then remake it into the dorms.

“I’m very, very moved by this,” said Blitman, an RPI trustee who lives in Scarsdale. Blitman’s family has been associated with RPI since 1910 when his father Charles Blitman

arrived to attend the school. His grandfather, Charles Blitman, was a farmer in East Greenbush.

Blitman recalled that as an RPI student he lived downtown on First Street near the YWCA and ran up the Approach to make morning classes on the hilltop campus.

Mayor Harry Tutunjian said the city is anticipating the positive impact by the arrival of the students.

“This influx of students into our downtown will one day prove to be the move that enhances the town and gown relationship that we all strive for,” Tutunjian said in a statement.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for us all.”

This year, RPI student leaders and organizations approached Troy Night Out and the Troy Downtown Collaborative to involve students with events, Young said.

RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson stressed that the development of the new residential commons reflects the university-wide effort to improve the student living and learning experience. Jackson said in a statement that RPI’s investment in the dorm and on the main campus has helped the city’s economic revival. The new dorm will remain on the city tax rolls. RPI said it pays $1.2 million annually in rent for office and research space downtown. When the students arrive, more than 500 people affiliated with RPI will live or work downtown.

Published in print in the Capital Region section of the Saturday, May 16, 2009 edition of the Times Union, Albany. NY. Photos and article appeared online: www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=800638.

By Tony Lucia Reading Eagle

PROMINENTLY SITUATED atop the rise at the east end of the Buttonwood Street Bridge, the Sun Rich Fresh Foods Inc. building brings the promise to the neighborhood of a new day after the long night represented by the decaying, vacant American Chain & Cable Co. plant that had occupied the site for decades.

And, just beginning production of its product, fresh-cut fruit, in Reading, the Sun Rich plant is at the very beginning of that new day.

With about 100 workers, compared with the 250 it plans to have by the end of its first three years, the processing plant – Sun Rich’s largest – is running at about 10 percent of its capacity, said Jim Jaroszewski, facility operations manager.

That status is evident throughout the spotless, 43,000-square-foot facility, which, whether in its warehouse or its processing rooms, clearly has space to grow into. But, said Carl Svangtun, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Sun Rich will get there, and even has room for further expansion at its six-acre parcel in the Buttonwood Gateway industrial park.

“We’re a very driven company,” Svangtun said of the privately held, Vancouver, Canada- based firm. A sweet smell wafts through the processing area, where dozens of workers chatter amiably amid the din of industrial fans and knives clattering on tables as cantaloupes and grapefruit move down the lines.

Food and worker safety, a primary focus at the plant, is evident in the white lab coats and hair nets worn by the workers, the sensor- controlled faucets and sinks for hand washing, the sanitizing foot bath all who enter must step through and the water runoff all over the skid-proof floor from the ongoing washing of fruit.

“We’re actually safer than cutting your own fruit,” Svangtun said, noting the constant cleansing of the product and the use of various types of cutting instruments for different operations performed on the fruit.

Once cut and again rinsed and drained, the fruit is weighed and then placed in pails of various sizes for delivery. Solutions are added to ensure freshness throughout the journey on refrigerated trucks to the ultimate destinations.

Sun Rich sells some fruit through retail channels, and is planning to expand that line. But the lion’s share of its production – more than 40 million pounds per year from its facilities in Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles and now Reading – is sold through foodservice channels into family restaurants, airlines, hospitals, hotels and industry.

The fruit – honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, oranges, grapefruit, grapes and apples – is sold in a range of mixes and as single commodities.

Sun Rich acquires its products from many sources, and Svangtun said maintaining adequate supplies is challenging in a competitive environment.

“Our melons out of Central America were pressured by wet weather,” he explained by way of example. “If the supply goes down, the price goes up and the quality goes down. And you get less yield.” Other critical factors, such as a dependable work force, good distribution routes and proximity to customers, have been met by its selection of Reading for the facility, which was announced in October 2006.

Svangtun credited retired retailer Albert R. Boscov and his Our City Reading organization, and city officials, for their aid in attracting the firm and helping it get through the various challenges it faced in bringing the vision of the plant into reality.

“There always are challenges, but this was incredibly smooth because we and the community had the same goal,” he said.

That was a reference to job creation, and Svangtun emphasized that Sun Rich’s intent is to have the plant run by local people.

“We want people committed to the community, who’ll therefore be committed to the company,” he said. “They will understand the challenges to the community better than we can.”

BY JEFF OSTROWSKI

Palm Beach Post

A Deerfield Beach cosmetics company plans to move its plant to Palm Springs and hire up to 800 workers over the next five years.

Palm Beach County commissioners will vote Tuesday on a $24 million bond issue for Oxygen Development LLC. The money would come from the county’s share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a stimulus package approved in February.

Oxygen Development already owns 16.5 acres of vacant land at 1525 S. Congress Ave. in Palm Springs. Now, it wants to build a 300,000-square-foot plant to develop and make its skin care and hair care products.

Oxygen Development head Philippe Cohen couldn’t be reached for comment, but Palm Springs Manager Karl Umberger said the company’s operations are spread over two buildings in Deerfield Beach.

Moving to Palm Springs would let Cohen build a new plant that’s closer to his workers, Umberger said.

“A lot of his employees actually live in this area, and they’re driving all the way to Deerfield,” Umberger said.

Oxygen Development hopes to begin construction by the end of the year, Umberger said. The company would employ 350 to 400 employees when it first moves here and plans to expand to 750 to 800 workers.

The average salary would be $34,500, according to the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. While many of the jobs would be low-paying, Oxygen Development also employs its share of higher-paid scientists and technicians who wear lab coats and work with microscopes and beakers, Umberger said.

Oxygen Development is asking the county to approve a Recovery Zone Facility Bond. The county received $54 million for the bonds but has yet to issue any, said Kevin Johns, the county’s economic development director.

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