LONG SAULT-Since Homestead Organics has outgrown its location in Berwick, plans are underway to locate a proposed project called Organic Central to the former Gildan Activewear building on the corner of Post Rd. and the Avonmore Rd. here.
Owner/founder of the Berwick organic grain elevator and farm supply business, Tom Manley says he and a group of investors have an agreement to purchase the building on a 65 acre-site from Toronto-based Seaway Logistics. They have a deadline of April 10 to meet a list of technical conditions and an environmental assessment and the legal agreement should close a few days later.
"It's a good building for our project, with its rectangular open space that's easy to partition and service the occupants," Manley told The AgriNews.
A cluster of organic manufacturer/processors would be located under one roof with one retail outlet to allow the public access to products from all the businesses. Manley says the investors who are buying the building are a different group from the potential occupants. There could beat least 12 businesses who would move into the 200,000 sq. ft interior, occupying spaces as big as 20,000 sq. ft to as small as 600 sq.ft.
Originally, the organic complex was planned to be located in Berwick and a conditional agreement to purchase adjacent land for the project expired in Nov. 2010.
"By then, we understood building in Berwick would be too expensive and impossible to finance," says Manley. That option would have cost an estimated $6-million for a new 65,000 sq.ft. facility, compared with an estimated $3-$4-million to acquire the 1960s era factory, including repairs and partitioning for the occupants.
The decision to relocate the proposed development "is no reflection" on North Stormont Council, Manley adds. However, the site in Long Sault does have municipal water and sewer services, something that is currently lacking in Berwick.
"Most likely we won't continue to operate the grain mill in Berwick," continues Manley, noting it would be too difficult to run two operations located half an hour away from each other. "We'll take everything we have that can be unbolted and reestablish there. If we resell this plant as is, and get a good price, we'd buy all new and relocate and build new, so we wouldn't continue to operate the grain mill."
To finance the renovations, the project is applying for government programs including the Eastern Ontario Development Fund that has funded numerous business and industrial expansions in Eastern Ontario already and the Rural Economic Development Program. The EODF, Manley explains, "doesn't fund bricks and mortar. We'd finance the real estate on our own."
There will be no quick action on the project unless financing is received and he expects renovations and partitions to take about eight to 12 months.
"We're very excited by all this. It's a unique approach, very innovative," Manley concludes, while acknowledging "it's a big challenge, financially. There are a lot of people to deal with in recruiting investors and tenants. There are a lot of issues to renovate an old building to meet the building code, fire code and food safety requirements. There are a lot of regulations to meet."