Seasonal Worker Dorm Proposed in Egg Harbor

At its March 14 meeting, the Egg Harbor Village Board heard a presentation about a proposed seasonal worker dormitory.

Tom Kispert, an engineer with McMahon Associates who also serves as the village engineer, gave the presentation. He explained that McMahon started an affiliate company called Integrated Public Resources (IRP) as a vehicle for creating public/private partnerships.

Kispert said the idea for the project came to him in a series of email exchanges that had nothing to do with the topic, but a mention was made of the lack of housing for seasonal workers that made him think, “Why hasn’t anybody done this?”

After consultation with village staff and a few business owners, IRP put together a set of plans for a one-story, 48,031-square-foot unit with 20 104-square-foot rooms with two beds to a room. A buffer of trees would hide the building from view on Hwy. 42. He estimated it would cost between $750,000 and $850,000 to build.

“We created that on our own,” Kispert said of the design plan. “How much did it cost the taxpayers? Zero. We didn’t charge a dime for it.”

However, he added, the village would need to make an investment in the project with land and a few concessions on zoning and waiving sewer/utility connection fees.

“We’re looking at this as a partnership,” Kispert said, adding that if land had to be bought for the project, it would be a non-starter.

“The village has attractive land over by the wastewater treatment plant,” Kispert said, explaining that the piece of property is behind the cemetery in an abandoned apple orchard.

“We’re looking for the village to kick that in – donated, a dollar lease, whatever, something where it’s not a significant cost to the project,” he said.

Kispert said McMahon Associates would do the design, construction and construction management, while IRP would secure the loan and coordinate the risk.

“The whole project hinges on risk,” he said. “Why don’t you have seasonal housing already? Because of the risk.”

The idea is to manage the risk by getting business owners to commit to taking rooms for their seasonal workers.

“We can go from zero to 100 percent ownership,” he said. “If somebody wants to jump in and own the whole thing, fantastic!”

However, Kispert said, “We haven’t found anybody willing to commit at this point.”

In the audience, Kaaren Northrop of Main Street Market said she just recently learned of the project and was never invited to a meeting, so believed many other business owners were in the same boat. She also mentioned that business owners in other communities might be interested in the proposal.

Kispert said to make the project work, the dorm would have to be filled to capacity for 20 weeks at $120 per bed.

“I don’t want to make money at this thing,” he said. “I want to break even. I’m going to make my money on the design and construction management.”

After the 20-week period, the dorm would be shut down for the winter, unless, Kispert added, additional cash flow is needed, it could be opened up to off-season employees, but not vacationers.

“If we have to be open in the winter, we’ll have to figure out how to do that,” Kispert said.

He also suggested the village could ease the risk of the project by using its room tax returns as a guarantee should there be a cash flow shortage.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Kispert said. “For the amount of demand everybody is telling me this has, it should go.”

Northrop said the seasonal workers could not afford $120 a week for a room, so employers would have to subsidize that.

Village Trustee Bob Dickson said $60 to $75 a week is the typical range a seasonal worker can pay for a place to sleep.

“I think it’s a very good idea,” Northrop said. “I think you would have businesses who would be willing to subsidize that, and not just in Egg Harbor.”

Ultimately, the village decided Kispert and the IRP team should continue to pursue the project by meeting with the Village Utility Committee, Plan Commission and the Egg Harbor Business Association to drum up interest in the project.

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