NORTH HUDSON — Three weeks after the Essex County Board of Supervisors moved to reject a local businessman’s bid for the former Frontier Town property, a once-popular theme park off the Northway, the stakes have been raised, counter offers have been made and legal teams are bracing for a fight.
At the county tax auction on April 30, Keeseville resident George Moore offered a bid of $49,500 for a cluster of four parcels adjacent to the property he already owns, a structure known as the A-Frame that he purchased at a previous sale.
But at a lawmaker meeting in Elizabethtown on May 12 to accept or deny each of the bids — altogether, 139 bidders bid on 150 total parcels — the board of supervisors moved to reject Moore’s bid in favor of a higher offer from the town of North Hudson, who offered $60,000 at the meeting (but did not, like Moore, attend the auction and engage in the bidding process).
His was the only bid that was outright rejected by the lawmakers.
North Hudson town supervisor Ronald Moore (no relation to George) told lawmakers at the meeting that discussions with county officials prior to the auction stipulated that the parcels would only be sold if the buyer met the $146,379.88 owed in back taxes, a condition that was singularly applied to these parcels, which span 88 acres and have a market value of $568,900.
Now, Moore is offering $65,000.
“I’m 87 and I’ve been to a lot of auctions of all kinds,” Moore told the Valley News in a phone interview. “I’ve bought a lot of property over the years and I never saw one handled this way.”
Moore’s attorney, William Russell, confirmed that a counter offer was sent to County Attorney Dan Manning’s office and told the Valley News he was “very disappointed” in the board’s decision and that his client would rather resolve the issue “in a practical way” than through the courts.
“If we can’t work it out, we will have to bring court action,” he said. “My client wants to give an opportunity to rectify this lack of notice,” referring to the decision that apparently caught Moore off guard after media reports surfaced following the supervisors’ decision.
Russell said accepting the $65,000 would immediately benefit the county:
“County taxes are being affected by this as well as town taxes,” said Russell. “Taxpayers would be better off if this were put back on the rolls.”
Essex County currently pays tax on the properties it has seized. No numbers were immediately available by the time this story went to press on how much it has paid annually on the Frontier Town parcels since 2006, the last year taxes were paid by the former owners, who have since vanished and could not be reached for comment.
Manning confirmed on Friday, May 23 that his office is reviewing the options for moving forward and doubled down on defending the board’s actions:
“There was absolutely nothing improper or clandestine with the Board of Supervisors’ decision to reject Mr. Moore’s bid,” he said in a written statement. “This issue has been repeatedly discussed at numerous committee and full board meetings prior to the auction.”
Manning explained the sale’s terms and conditions “basically” form the basis of the auction contract between the parties and were contained in the auction brochure, published on the website and given to and signed by each bidder.
“All bidders were aware that any bid on any sale could be rejected by the board,” he said. “Mr. Moore’s bid was rejected for legitimate and good reasons after consideration of the bid price and other associated factors. It is unfair and disingenuous to suggest that there has been any impropriety.”
It remains unclear what constitutes “other associated factors.” Owing to the holiday weekend, Manning could not be reached by the time this story went to print.
‘VIRTUALLY NO PROPERTY’
Ronald Moore previously told lawmakers and reporters he envisioned the former Wild West theme park as a much-needed economic engine for the town.
While he declined to comment on an ongoing legal case, a letter to his constituents dated Tuesday, May 20 sought to explain the town board’s decision.
Citing previous reports from the Valley News and the Press-Republican, Moore discussed his role on a county task force that was set up to discuss the property and reaffirmed the now-familiar argument that Moore’s bid of $49,500 was one-third of the back taxes owed on the property and the county’s right to accept or deny all bids.
He emphasized that if the town managed to sell the property within five years, they would pay the county one-third of the proceeds above the $60,000 paid.
He also cited the concerns of his constituents:
“For years, many of you have asked the [town] board to do something, anything, to bring business to town,” he wrote.
Echoing comments he previously made to the Valley News that some 90 percent of the North Hudson’s land is state-owned, and therefore prohibited from being developed, Moore said the town has “virtually no property” that a business could be developed other than the parcels at the center of the debate.
If the town lands the former theme park, a decision that is now uncertain after the Essex County Board of Supervisors tabled the resolution on Tuesday, May 27, Moore said he plans on partnering with the Essex County Industrial Development Agency to try to market the property at a reasonable price to bring business to town, something he hopes will create jobs and give rise to the possibility of a small grocery or diner.
At a task force meeting earlier this year, the board threw out the option of IDA involvement, citing the estimated two years that it would take to see the project through its completion as impractical.
In the interim period, said Moore in the letter, North Hudson would try their hand at developing some of the property for recreational use, including snowmobiling, horseback riding and biking, something that would help attract what he predicts will be an influx of tourists after the state acquires the Boreas Ponds tract, 22,000 acres formerly owned by Finch Pruyn, the Glens Falls-based paper company.
Moore also cited ongoing efforts by the Department of Conservation to construct a trail from Newcomb to North Hudson that will eventually tie to Indian Lake, Long Lake and Minerva.
“With our location directly off the Northway, we will be the start of this major trail system,” he said, also floating the idea of a guide service and parking lot for snowmobiles and horseriding rigs.
“Yes, it will come off the tax rolls for a time, but we would hope that it would eventually return to the rolls with advantages, such as a business, that would far outweigh any early loss in taxes.”
George Moore said while he is getting up in years and doesn’t yet have exact plans for what he would do with the parcels once they are finally combined, the separation of which he said has prohibited him from fully developing his holdings in the past (and have elicited complaints from critics), he is confident that his family — including Philip, owner of Moore’s Concrete — are capable and will hatch a plan for the future.
“They will take over for me, but I’m still very active. I can’t walk good or see much, but my mind stills works.”