Former Navy commissary to become ‘food hub’ in Topsham
TOPSHAM — The former U.S. Navy commissary building, left vacant for two years due to the closure of Brunswick Naval Air Station, is on the verge of major redevelopment pending signatures on leases with two companies that hope to create a “local food hub.”
JHR Development of Maine, developer of Maine Street Station in Brunswick, hopes to sign a purchase and sale agreement with the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority on Nov. 15, Project Manager Mike Lyne said Thursday.
On Oct. 15, JHR Development received site plan approval for the project from the town of Topsham to develop the building into a food processing plant for two tenants, Town Planner Rich Roedner said.
Wicked Joe Coffee buys green coffee beans, roasts them, packages them and ships them to wholesale customers.
“We’re very fortunate a lot of people really love our product, so we are growing,” Carmen Garver who owns Wicked Joe with her husband, Bob, said in September. “We’re just doing very well, so we need more space.”
The Garvers await word on a Community Development Block Grant application, filed by the town of Topsham on their behalf, that would secure them $270,000 in funding in exchange for creating at least nine jobs.
The company currently employs 12 people in about 10,000 square feet in Brunswick. It would occupy 25,000-square-feet of the former commissary.
The new facility would give Wicked Joe space for a “cupping room” for coffee tasting, conference rooms, and more production. It also would provide storage space and eliminate the need for the firm to store coffee in other states, Garver said.
Maine Harvest Co. would join Wicked Joe in the building. The food aggregation and light processing company works with local farmers to help them bring their produce to market.
“The idea is that we would want to create greater economic opportunities for farmers, to give them access to markets by aggregating a lot of small farmers to get them to larger markets like Whole Foods and Hannaford,” said Jamien Richardson, who co-owns Maine Harvest with Tod Yankee. Processing could include freezing local strawberries to sell them year-round or pureeing butternut squash so local schools can make soup in smaller kitchens.
“Our goal is to help take small- and medium-scale farmers and help them move to the next level,” she said.
Selling at a farmers market on a rainy day could be a risky time investment for farmers, Richardson said, because “you have no idea if it’s going to result in $100 of sales or $500 of sales.”
Maine Harvest has about 20 letters of intent from farmers who hope to, for example, sell one of five acres of produce to Maine Harvest, for a flat fee, and sell the other acres at farmers markets and through Community Supported Agriculture shares.
Richardson said Maine Harvest has “a number of equity investors on board” and is working with Coastal Enterprises Inc. on financing. The company also awaits word on a $240,000 CDBG grant, in exchange for which they would agree to create 8 jobs, although Richardson said she and Yankee think the facility will actually employ closer to 12 people.
Lyne declined to disclose details of the leases with Wicked Joe and Maine Harvest Company.
“The goal is to have both of them operating in early 2014,” Lyne said. “It’s an aggressive goal because we have all the winter conditions heading right at us. (But) if everything went really well, within a month we could be working over there.”