The closure of Sikorsky's military helicopter plants on the grounds of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport not only cost hundreds of jobs and dealt a major blow to the local economy, it left Chemung County officials with the daunting task of finding new tenants for the buildings.
The closure of Sikorsky’s military helicopter plants on the grounds of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport not only cost hundreds of jobs and dealt a major blow to the local economy, it left Chemung County officials with the daunting task of finding new tenants for the buildings.
However, the county is now close to finalizing a deal under which Sikorsky would pay off its approximately $20 million debt, and plans are in the works for two of the three former Sikorsky buildings to be filled.
Emhart Glass, currently located in Elmira, wants to expand into the former Sikorsky HawkWorks plant on Kahler Road.
Also, Alfred Technology Resources Inc. is planning to open an incubator for start-up advanced manufacturing companies in the old Schweizer Aircraft plant on the east side of the airport, which used to be part of the Sikorsky complex.
The deals are still being finalized, and both projects are waiting to see if they’ll be approved for state economic development funding, expected to be announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October.
But the developments have been very positive, said Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli.
“With the economy the way it was, I was very, very concerned about how long it might take us to market these buildings,” he said.
The first step, Santulli explained, is to complete a deal under which Sikorsky would pay off the debt on its two primary facilities in Big Flats, both owned by the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency.
The IDA built the $15 million HawkWorks plant on Kahler Road in 2007 for Sikorsky, and also secured the financing for a $13 million renovation of the former Wings of Eagles museum on Sing Sing Road into another facility for Sikorsky in 2011.
Sikorsky has a lease on those two facilities through 2023, and still owes more than $20 million on the loans.
Sikorsky, based in Connecticut, has continued to pay the monthly payments and property taxes since pulling its operations out of Big Flats, Santulli said.
“To their credit, they’ve made every payment. They have not missed a payment,” Santulli said. “They have honored every one of their commitments.”
Sikorsky is now planning to pay off the roughly $20 million, freeing it from the lease deals, and that would give the IDA control of the buildings again.
The IDA would then sell HawkWorks to Emhart Glass, which makes equipment used in the manufacture of glass containers. Emhart Glass would put an addition on the former HawkWorks plant for office space.
Emhart Glass is seeking a $1.67 million state grant, and the project is listed at $9.7 million total, according to state documents. The Switzerland-based company’s executives are still reviewing the deal. A local Emhart spokeswoman declined comment.
Sikorsky’s other main building, the former Wings of Eagles, will be much harder to market, Santulli said.
Due to its close proximity to the airport tarmac and FAA restrictions, it has to be used for an aviation-related business, “which is not the easiest thing to find right now,” Santulli said. It used to be just a huge hangar, but Sikorsky divided it up for office space, another challenge, he added.
Sikorsky has agreed to pay for the upkeep of the building for several years as the county looks for a new tenant, Santulli said.
“They realized that had a huge impact on this community when they left,” Santulli said. “We asked them for extra consideration, and they gave it to us.”
The third part of the Sikorsky complex is the former Schweizer Aircraft plant.
It was the first building Sikorsky acquired when it came to the area in 2004. They moved to across the airfield to the much larger HawkWorks in 2007, and later donated the building back to the Chemung IDA.
Now, Alfred Technology Resources Inc. is looking to use about 40,000 square feet of the 160,000-square-foot building as an incubator for advanced manufacturing.
ATRI operates the Ceramics Corridor Incubator in the Town of Erwin, near Corning Inc.’s Sullivan Park, and a similar facility in Alfred.
“Both of our facilities are full, and they have been for a while,” said Nancy Kirby, ATRI’s chief financial officer. “So we were looking for a way to expand.”
ATRI is looking to spend about $1.5 million for electrical upgrades and other renovations at the Schweizer plant, which it would lease from the Chemung County IDA. They are seeking $312,000 in state economic development funding.
“It will be about a tenth of the cost that it would be to build a new facility, and get it ready for businesses to come in, so basically it’s a turnkey operation - they can come in and be all ready to go,” Kirby said.
She said they plan to have enough space to accommodate six to 10 new companies in the former Schweizer plant. If all goes according to plan, it could be open by next fall.
“I think it’s fabulous in many ways,” said George Miner, director of the Chemung County IDA. “The Schweizer brothers were one of the early innovators of flight in the world. To repurpose their original aviation manufacturing facility into a high tech incubator sort of brings it back to its original roots.”
One of ATRI’s success stories is located near the airport. Silicon Carbide Products started in the incubator and then moved to its own building in Airport Corporate Park, Miner said.
“I believe (the incubator) will be a good job creator,” Miner said. “The real telling will be when the companies grow out of the incubator on their own. That’s when the jobs will be created. They key will be to keep those companies here in the Southern Tier.”