The Massachusetts town of Athol is currently negotiating an agreement that would allow them to convert a vacant mill into a marijuana company that would bring in over 500 new jobs to the town. During an October 17th meeting, there was a 4-1 vote in favor of building the cultivation, manufacturing and extraction facility. This vote has already allowed for several companies to look into starting operations there. Do you believe that they will be successful in their efforts to re-use the mill for marijuana-related businesses?
ATHOL – The town is negotiating an agreement for marijuana growing at a sprawling mill that has been mostly vacant for decades, and it could bring 500 jobs to town.
Town Manager Shaun A. Suhoski said recently he is working on the host community agreement after a vote of non-opposition by selectmen last month for a medical marijuana indoor cultivation facility at 134 Chestnut Hill Ave., the former Union Twist Drill Co. mill. The building is owned by Bill Purple, 93, president of the L.P. Athol Corp., which purchased the building in 1986.
Mr. Purple has been redeveloping the 365,000-square-foot building for mixed use for years; it has several small commercial tenants.
During an Oct. 17 meeting, selectmen voted 4-1 for the letter of non-opposition to the cultivation, manufacturing and extraction facility. The move opened the doors for nonprofit Herbology Group Inc., which holds the provisional license, and developer Sea Hunter Therapeutics to move to the next step.
Frank A. Perullo, spokesman for Herbology, said the companies were attracted to the building in Athol because it is zoned appropriately and the town has set parcels of land for indoor cultivation.
“Once we find a site that is zoned appropriately that meets state buffer requirements, like (away from) common areas where children congregate and the requirement of the town buffer, we are interested,” Mr. Perullo said. “This site is perfect. It is secure, surrounded by a river and railroad, and there is only one entrance. Athol is the only property right now in our sights. We love the property. It is the way to go.”
Additionally, the town was receptive during initial discussions, he said.
The developer is investing millions of dollars in the site, he said, and renovations will be done in phases, starting with 100,000 square feet and eventually taking up the entire complex and potentially adding more structures.
If all goes smoothly, the facility could open by the second fiscal quarter of next year, he said, initially hiring 200 full-time people for “good paying jobs” of $15-plus an hour in a fast-growing industry that is projected to outpace manufacturing nationally by 2020 and soar to $25 billion in revenue.
The “clean-room technology” facility will potentially add another 300 jobs, he said, at all skill levels, from tending to the organically grown crop and computer-controlled fertigation systems and extracting processes, to corporate jobs managing the yields and finances.
Marijuana plants grown at the facility will be used in oils, tinctures and infused products, he said.
“The next step is to finalize the real estate transaction and work with the town on our special permit,” Mr. Perullo said. “We are also in the process of creating an agreement with the town for a lasting and long-term relationship with the town for town resources we need to help our business grow and to make sure we take care of the town.”
He said he anticipates that agreement will be complete in the coming “weeks or days.”
The facility would be Athol’s second largest employer. Tool-maker L.S. Starrett Co. is the largest.
Mr. Suhoski said once the state Department of Public Health grants the license, the proposal will go before the Zoning Board for a special permit.
However, Selectman Rebecca Bialecki, the only board member who voted against the letter of non-opposition, said she is not a supporter of recreational marijuana. She said although it is a legalized industry in Massachusetts, she has many concerns about drug use and abuse in Athol.
“It is a drug, legal or not, and any substance which can alter someone’s mood or impair judgement can be problematic,” Ms. Bialecki said. “We are struggling with an addiction epidemic in our state. I don’t see this as an industry that is one to build our future on.”
Lee Chauvette, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he is committed to moving the project forward in the best interest of our community.
“I believe it is a great reuse of the mill facility,” Mr. Chauvette said. “The area needs employment opportunities. Hundreds of jobs could be housed at the proposed facility. I have researched the various people involved in the proposal and Sea Hunter Therapeutics appears to be well-funded and able to take on the project. Herbology Group Inc. has been issued a provisional certificate for another project in Chester, Mass.”
Cindy Hartwell, Mr. Purple’s daughter, and her husband Chuck Hartwell, business development director for L.P. Athol Corp., said they are excited about the possibility.
“It’s exciting if it happens, but we’re very far away from it happening,” Ms. Hartwell said. “We want it to happen and want jobs to come to town.”
Mr. Hartwell said the developer approached them about three weeks ago and toured the building before the selectmen’s meeting Oct. 17. The couple said “nothing has happened” the last few weeks.
“We didn’t want to go public,” Ms. Hartwell said. “There are so many more steps, and we have tenants we don’t want to disrupt.”