By RACHEL COLEMAN
Michael Dorf, the man behind the “adaptive reuse” of City Winery, formerly the Montgomery Mill, has now set his sights on renovating what remains of the old Borden condensed milk factory on Route 208. In a presentation to the Town of Montgomery Planning Board last week, he explained that he envisions a hotel and restaurant with a wine-making focus.
“We will beautify what is an incredible historic structure, utilizing all of the existing buildings, bringing them back to life,” said Michael Dorf. The project would include a 30-room hotel with ten suites and a restaurant for about 75 people, as well as a small pool/spa, library and spaces that could potentially host small weddings. He also plans to connect the property to the adjacent Walden-Wallkill Rail Trail.
As proposed, the project does not add any new structures to the property, with the exception of a small storage shed tucked out of sight.
The historic landmark overlooks the Wallkill River, perched near the border with Ulster County and the Town of Shawangunk.
“I’ve been driving past this dilapidated building for 25 years,” said Dorf. “I’ve been eyeing it for a long time and I’m very thrilled to be able to sort of take the custodianship of this history and bring it back to life.”
Dorf and his team plan to use the original 45,000 square feet of potential interior space in the buildings, as well as create second floors and a possible third level on one structure, for a total of about 86,000 square feet.
“Because of the fire in 1997, most of the roofs and a lot of the structural beams are gone, and instead of taking the strategy of rebuilding exactly what was there prior to the fire, we’re going to be maintaining what is still left and we’re going to be adding to it newer elements that will be made out of primarily steel and glass,” said Todd Zwigard, the architect for the project.
The rendering provided by Dorf shows the new roof designs, which Zwigard called “an opportunity for the expression of this new occupation.”
He added that the potential third level in the middle structure would provide a “beautiful skytop space which would have a great view of the surrounding area and the Wallkill River.”
Zwigard said some portions of the buildings are not original and made of concrete. They intend to remove most of those and are currently doing survey work trying to determine how much of the original structures can be preserved.
“We’re going to be looking carefully at ways to stabilize the existing masonry, which is in different stages of sturdiness from some good, to some excellent, to some dangerously bad,” said Zwigard.
Planning Board attorney Richard Hoyt advised the board that Dorf has already been in contact with the town’s Historic Preservation Commission and started coordinating with them before coming to the planning board.
“Which is very important and I think it will be helpful to the process,” said Hoyt. “This is a landmark, a local town landmark, so they did the right thing.”
Dorf assured the board that they are “preserving the history” of the property, even naming the project the Milk Factory, somewhat “tongue-in-cheek.”
“I can tell from your faces that you’re as excited as I am about this project and revitalizing the milk factory,” said Montgomery Town Supervisor Brian Maher.
Maher told the planning board that he “completely endorses” the Milk Factory and that while all of the town’s projects are important, “this project is special.”
“Michael is someone who is a true believer in environmental protection so that’s something that I think really carries a lot of weight.
Sometimes you’ll see a developer come up here and yes they’re trying to check some boxes, but this is an individual who truly, truly in his heart cares about those things and also bringing these old buildings back to life,” said Maher. “As someone who has relatives who worked in that factory, as I know some of you on the dais also do, it’s very special to me, and to a large portion of our community.”
Dorf is incorporating solar energy into the project and designating more than half of the parking spaces as permeable (grass or gravel).
The project engineer, Larry Marshall, said they are proposing about 107 paved spaces and 115 permeable parking spaces more central to the site. They are separated because Dorf insisted on preserving the old railroad stub that used to serve the property.
“That railroad stub is intended to be utilized for connection to the Rail Trail,” said Marshall, adding that they will create a bike path that will connect to the Rail Trail.
The project does have one major factor to plan, namely the sewer for the project, as they do have a large anticipated use. The applicant has been in discussions with the neighboring town of Shawangunk about a possible connection to their future extension of service down Route 208.
If that avenue does not work however, Marshall said they may treat their wastewater on site with a package plant and discharge into the stream to the south or into the Wallkill River.
The presentation last week was the first glance at the proposal for the planning board and they will now await plans from Dorf and his team.
“It’s exciting,” said Planning Board Chairman Fred Reichle.
In a subsequent interview, Dorf said the purchase price for the former Borden property was “not a lot” but that the total project would be in the range of $12-$15 million to renovate the stone and brickwork that was, for him, the main attraction although it is burned out and dilapidated.
“There’s something about being a steward of a building of a history,” Dorf said. “You can’t rebuild it. You can’t Disney-fake it out.”
Dorf, who operates the City Winery franchise in seven locations, including Montgomery, notes that his first site in Manhattan was in a 150 year-old building that once housed a printing press.
“We’ve continued a tradition of doing these adaptive re-uses,” he said.
The old factory had 13 distinct buildings, each will have its own glass and steel roof, supported by a steel skeleton that also supports the remaining brick facade. The complex will be fitted with solar panels to provide electricity. Like City Winery, which utilizes the Wallkill River to harness its own electricity, the Milk Factory will also be entirely self-sufficient.
The new venue, he says, will not be another City Winery. It will be a boutique hotel with an upscale restaurant - to be called “Moo” - with a menu that will be equal parts high-end steak and plant-based cuisine. Plans for the property also include what Dorf calls the Hudson Valley first bicycle concierge.
A native of Wisconsin, with its strong dairy heritage, Dorf said the Borden brand is “part of my DNA,” and is connected viscerally to its history. Since becoming an Ulster County resident more than 20 years ago, he has visited the School of Practical Philosophy on the former Borden Home Farm in Wallkill. He is hoping to house some Borden artifacts in the Milk Factory.
Maher said the Town of Montgomery is open to having conversations with the developer, should he be interested in any financing or other incentives available through the town’s Industrial Development Agency. Doff said he would be open to these conversations and also plans to file an application with the Empire State Development Corp. for further assistance.
While there is no official timeframe for this project - its still requires various approvals - Dorf promised that work would begin “within five hours” of the issuance of the first building permit.