Owners plan to convert historic factory into housing

Building one of the former Oval Wood Dish factory is being used as storage for boats, cars and campers. Developers plan to convert this building into parking for the 92 apartments they’ve proposed to build at the site. Aaron Cerbone/Adirondack Daily Enterprise

TUPPER LAKE — The people who recently purchased the former Oval Wood Dish factory have laid out what their planned redevelopment of the building will have in store: housing up front, business in the back.

Joe Gehm and Michael Dunyk, owners of the Syracuse-based Lahinch Group, purchased the historic 110,000-square-foot factory with its iconic smokestack for $1 million two weeks ago.

They are anticipating a $30 million redevelopment of the building, turning it into blended apartments and business space.

They plan to build 92 apartments in total — two-thirds mixed-income apartments geared toward “entry-level workforce housing,” and one-third market-rate apartments geared toward wealthier renters.

Gehm anticipates the mixed-income units will be priced to be affordable for people working at the Sunmount state facility for people with developmental disabilities, the Wild Center nature museum or one of the many restaurants in town.

Tupper Lakers on a tour of the building last week said there’s a market for apartments like this in town. New apartment stock is badly needed here.

Tupper Lake Free Press Publisher and landlord Dan McClelland said, “There isn’t a vacant apartment in Tupper Lake.”

Trustee Ron LaScala is rehabilitating and renting out apartments in a building next to his Park Street home.

“As soon as I’m done with one, it’s rented within an hour,” he said.

State Sen. Dan Stec said administrators at Sunmount told him employees travel from as far as Ogdensburg and Massena to work in Tupper Lake because of the apartment shortage.

Developers are mostly planning to build one- and two-bedroom units.

Asked what sort of businesses they’d like to host, Gehm deferred to village Mayor Paul Maroun.

“Honestly, it’s anything that fits well with the mayor’s vision for the village,” he said.

He said he wants to create a “vibrant live-work environment,” adding that this mixed-use space would be like a “Brooklyn setting in Tupper Lake.”

As everyone left Thursday afternoon, Raquette River Brewing co-owner Mark Jessie was pulling in for a meeting with Gehm and Dunyk. He’s expressed interest in opening a brewing and canning operation there.

Built in 1916 as a new headquarters for the Oval Wood Dish company, the construction of the building itself employed hundreds. The first log was cut in 1918 and by 1940 the factory employed one-tenth of Tupper Lake’s population, over 500 people.

Some of these employees lived in a community across the street on the shore of Raquette Pond, called Sissonville. The factory had a gymnasium where employees and their families would play sports.

The factory produced a wide range of wooden products, including its namesake: oval wooden dishes. Over the years it also produced clothespins, bowling pins, tongue depressors, furniture pieces, commercial veneer, hardwood flooring, popsicle sticks and the popular wooden spoons that came with cups of ice cream.

The OWD factory closed in 1964.

From 2003 to 2008 Jarden Plastics Solutions Inc. used the factory to make plastic items such as eating utensils and poker chips before closing.

LaScala remembered the days when people all across town worked at the OWD. He remembers delivering pizzas there for employees on their lunch breaks.

“When I was a kid the factory ran 24/7,” he said.

LaScala said almost anyone who grew up in Tupper Lake has been inside the building before, whether they were an employee at one of the manufacturing companies it hosted or if they sneaked in at 3 a.m. with friends to explore the abandoned structure.

The layout

The eight-building complex is shaped like a hand, with buildings stretching toward the road like fingers. These front-facing buildings will be the apartments, giving units on the ends a clear view of Raquette Pond across state Route 3.

The green spaces between these fingers will be kept and turned into areas with benches and flowers.

Building one, to the left in the back, is planned for parking. That’s essentially what it’s being used for now, as its former owner, Norman Bobrow, has leased out the space for people to store their cars, boats and campers.

Building two, stretching along the back of the complex, is planned to be office space for businesses.

Buildings three, four and six are planned to be residential apartments.

Building five, the gymnasium, may become two floors of apartments, but Gehm said he’d prefer that space be used for businesses.

Building seven is planned to be demolished because it is a newer structure and has no historic value. The space where the building stands now would be turned into green space, and would allow developers to install large windows in neighboring apartments to bring in natural light.

Right now, these buildings have no windows, and are as dark as a catacomb.

Building eight is planned to be turned into commercial retail space.

The property is serviced by village water, sewer and electric. Gehm said the roof will need to be replaced. There are several areas where water leaks through the roof, but he said it has not caused much water damage.

Gehm said Lahinch is under contract to purchase the land behind the OWD factory, currently used by Fletcher and Son Recycling and Energy. He said they plan to turn the area into a public space extending to the Junction Pass trail and may build a stage for live music and events.

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