A walk in the factory
OWD developers plan apartments, business space in historic building
TUPPER LAKE — When Joe Gehm walked around the cavernous former Oval Wood Dish factory he and Michael Dunyk bought last week, he did not see an empty warehouse. He saw apartments, businesses and people.
Pointing around at large walls and dirty floors while giving a tour of the building Thursday, he explained how he hopes to convert the now-empty space.
It once was the home of the Oval Wood Dish company, which brought jobs and industry to Tupper Lake. But since 2008 the building’s been mostly used for storing boats and cars. On April 13, Syracuse-based Lahinch Group, owned by Gehm and Dunyk, bought the property for $1 million.
Gehm and Dunyk plan to fill the eight-building complex with mixed-income apartments, market-rate apartments, offices and businesses.
They said they’ve seen the building from the outside over the years, every time they drove down Demars Boulevard in their travels through the North Country. But it wasn’t until they saw it from the inside and started talking to local leaders about redeveloping the factory that they started to consider what it could be.
“Mike and I have been coming up here to the Adirondacks for many years,” Gehm said. “We’ve driven past it a million times.”
There’s a lot of work to be done inside. There’s water dripping from the ceiling in several buildings, broken windows and graffiti on the walls.
Currently, the floor is cluttered with pieces of crumbling walls, dirt, glass, puddles and bird poop — lots and lots of bird poop and feathers.
Jim Schaffer, who for around a dozen years did maintenance for the building’s former owner Norman Bobrow, said there’s a red-tailed hawk living in the building, hunting the pigeons that roost there. Occasionally he’ll find a dead pigeon. He believes the hawk is feeding a baby because usually hawks just eat pigeon hearts, but he’s recently found more torn-up birds, and he believes the hawk is bringing pigeon meat back to its baby.
Gehm estimated the preliminary renovation and development will cost around $30 million.
Despite the desolate look of the building and the large price tag of development, Gehm said he’s not intimidated. The project is on the large side for Lahinch Group, but they say they’ve done renovations like this before.
He said their other partners — Hueber Breuer Construction and Housing Visions — have also done larger developments.
Lahinch Group also has experience in refurbishing old, abandoned and historic buildings, including the Oak Knitting Mill and the C.G. Meaker Building, both in historic manufacturing neighborhoods in Syracuse.
“The focus of our development is really historic properties,” Gehm said.
Gehm said in every building they modernize and convert, they make an effort to keep the history, saving artifacts and pictures of the building’s former life in public spaces. Asked if they will keep the factory’s iconic smokestack, Gehm said “absolutely.”
Gehm said having the backing of the community is important to him.
“It makes it a lot easier when you have local support,” he said.
In September 2020, the New York State Board of Historic Preservation named the factory as one of 18 sites recommended for the state and national Registers of Historic Places.
Having a historic designation can lead to tax credits and grants as a trade-off for limits on what can be altered.
“The benefits outweigh any restrictions,” Gehm said. “We leverage historic tax credits, which are imperative to making a project like this work.”
He said the state Board of Historic Preservation and the National Parks Service will both need to approve the design plans. He said they plan to get housing tax credits through the Homes and Community Renewal program.