A nonprofit hopes to place a winning bid on purchase of some or all of the former Seneca Army Depot
Seneca White Deer, Inc. may bid on all or a portion of what is up for grabs at the former Seneca Army Depot.
The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency opens the bidding process Dec. 15 in its mission to sell some 7,000 acres of the property and get it on the tax rolls. Seneca White Deer — a nonprofit working to save the white deer herd housed on the property and turn the site into a world-class tourist attraction — will submit a business plan backed up by money it is raising for the purchase.
“With the various commitments we have obtained and donations coming in, and merchandise sales, we are probably over 25 percent of goal,” said Seneca White Deer President Dennis Money. The fundraising goal is $1 million, though Money said having a bit less in hand won’t preclude bidding on the property.
“We will see what is our cash flow, who our partners are, and we will take it from there,” he said.
Applicants will have until Feb. 29 to submit bids.
Money was among those who attended the Nov. 7 meeting the IDA hosted about its plans to sell the depot. The IDA will consider selling the property in one, two, or three sections.
Money said Seneca White Deer would need enough land to provide a healthy habitat for the deer. An aerial census done several years ago counted about 800 deer on the property, with about 185 of those the unique, white deer, and the remainder brown deer. It is possible 1,000 acres would work, Money said, though that question and many others will be addressed in the coming weeks as the group draws up a detailed plan.
The basis of the Seneca White Deer proposal is an ecotourism facility with a visitor center, bus walking and tours, birding sites, trails for hiking, horse riding and cross country skiing, as well as areas for camping, scouting, environmental education programs and a research facility. The plan would also highlight the depot’s rich military history with exhibits and other features. Money said the business plan will detail the economic benefit such a use would bring to the region through jobs and tourism.
In 2012, the depot was opened for tours on 640 acres “and people loved it,” said Money. Those tours, along with the Seneca White Deer’s efforts since then to promote its conservation/tourism plan plus the recent publicity about the IDA sale, have all helped fundraising. Money said donations are coming in from across the country and from as far away as London. Even a singer/songwriter in Nashville who supports the project is writing a song for Seneca White Deer that will soon be used to promote the campaign, he said.
Seneca White Deer has some big players on its side, perhaps the most influential being The Nature Conservancy. The largest land trust in the world, The Nature Conservancy has preserved tens of thousands of acres in the Finger Lakes region alone.
The former Seneca Army Depot property is a natural treasure, not only for its deer but for other wildlife and environmental benefits as well, said Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy's director in central and western New York.
“When a large swath of undeveloped land like this comes up for sale, we definitely pay attention,” Howe said.
The depot was completed a month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and was a storage area for bombs and ammunition in 500 steel-and-concrete bunkers for 60 years. Since the depot closed in 2000, the Army Corps of Engineers has maintained the site during environmental cleanup operations. The Army will finish its work by the end of the month, leaving the land and deer under new owners.
Howe said conserving the property is important for water quality benefits, as well as wildlife that include a nesting bald eagle and all types of waterfowl. “It is a great area of outdoor recreation and tourism,” he added.
Money said The Nature Conservancy offers invaluable expertise in areas such as science, fundraising and land acquisition.
“Having them on our side gives us a greater amount of credibility. Everyone respects The Nature Conservancy,” he said. “They can open doors that we can not."
After bids are in Feb. 29, the IDA will evaluate proposals and select from one to three buyers. Money said based on those who spoke at the Nov. 7 meeting, the interest is coming largely from farmers.
Seneca County IDA: www.senecacountyida.org/
Seneca White Deer Inc.: senecawhitedeer.org/