WATERLOO — Earl Martin will expand his holdings of land on the former Seneca Army Depot.
The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency voted Aug. 7 to sell the former Hillside Children’s Center campus in Varick to Martin, who purchased 3,000 acres of the former depot from the IDA in 2014. The former purchase includes the area managed by Seneca White Deer Inc. for Deer Haven Park, a preserve for white deer and other wildlife in a fenced-in area.
Martin was the only one to submit a formal bid under a request for proposals issued by the IDA for sale of the 172-acre campus, which Hillside had been leasing from the IDA for 15 years before leaving at the end of 2019.
According to IDA Executive Director Sarah Davis, Martin’s bid was $65,000. David said he plans to use the land, which includes several major buildings, for an expansion of Deer Haven Park.
“One other party submitted a statement of interest but failed to provide a complete bid,” Davis said. “This sale will require a three-year payment in lieu of taxes for the property to give him time to work with the assessor regarding the current assessed value of the property.
“The IDA looks forward to working with Mr. Martin on the expansion of Deer Haven Park at the former Hillside Campus and is pleased that even in the midst of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community is resilient and looking forward to new ways to move ahead.”
The Hillside campus includes eight buildings constructed in the 1950s and seven that were added in the 1970s and ’80s. The Army built the facilities for troops barracks, a bachelor officers quarters, a mess hall, theater, offices, and recreation facilities.
Martin, owner of Seneca Iron Works and Seneca Dairy Systems in Fayette, has taken over Deer Haven Park from Seneca White Deer and plans to expand his steel gate and fencing business at the former depot.
Davis said the IDA did not anticipate receiving a higher bid because of the extent of work needed on the property that is outlined in an inspection report by Fisher Associates. She said the campus is adjacent to the deer park, with a gate separating the two.
“The purchase of Hillside will help us with the deer park by allowing us to integrate the Hillside resources into the tours, which will enable us to expand them to a level not previously seen before by allowing us to connect our tours to different areas on the former depot,” Martin said. “It could allow us to run multiple activities at the same time, all with a goal of making the white deer program more sustainable long into the future.”
Martin said the former Hillside property will provide the support needed to bring sustainability and prosperity to the dreams and visions of the white deer program in Seneca County. He said since Seneca White Deer ceased its tour operations, he has been allowing individual cars to travel through the park and has designed an app to provide information to those driving through the park’s roads.
“This is a very controlled event, and while it is still developing by the day, the event, which is open every Saturday, gives people the opportunity to get out and see the majestic white tailed white deer,” he said.
The tours are being offered at a discount price during the pandemic.
Martin said any breaks or holes in the fencing are repaired as soon as they are identified, adding that there have not been many deer escaping. He said he has increased the amount of protein-rich deer food planted within the park.
The IDA became the owner of the 10,600-acre depot when it closed in 2000. In April 2000, the IDA leased 172 acres at the northernmost end to KidsPeace, which set up a residential treatment program for youth referred to the program by the courts because they couldn’t function well at home or school. After KidsPeace closed in 2004, Rochester-based Hillside took over the lease in 2004 an began its own residential treatment program for youth.