While one building in South Boston is being retrofitted for the operation of an industrial hemp processing facility, a former industrial facility is being remediated to bring it back up to code and place it back on the market.
The Halifax County Industrial Development Authority board discussed those building projects at its Friday morning meeting and approved additional financing for ongoing projects.
The IDA last month announced a performance agreement with Blue Ribbon Extraction to open the industrial hemp processing facility in the J. Aubrey Houghton Industrial Park at 2525 Houghton Drive. The IDA purchased the building for $1.7 million, and an additional $1.5 million will be spent upfitting the facility for operations.
IDA executive director Brian Brown told the board at Friday’s meeting the retrofit of the building is moving along as scheduled, and the IDA has received Halifax County’s allocation toward the building upfit — $150,000 in grant resources.
“It is on schedule; they are moving forward fast,” Brown said. “Blue Ribbon is looking at a September opening date still. They’re doing a lot of work on the interior of the building right now.”
The hemp processing facility will be the first of its kind in Virginia. Blue Ribbon Extraction has 1.2 million pounds of hemp under contract with farmers for the 2020 growing season, and the IDA anticipates the performance agreement with Blue Ribbon will bring 40 full-time jobs to Halifax County.
The IDA’s purchase of the Houghton Industrial Park building and construction of a shell building at the Southern Virginia Technology Park for the purpose of attracting business and industry led to a shortfall in the IDA’s 2019-2020 budget. Brown told the board the projects were unbudgeted expenses.
“It’s a great problem to have — the fact that we are moving forward with these projects and we have jobs coming in,” Brown said.
The IDA executive director at Friday’s meeting requested authorization from the board to secure financing for $1,000,000 revolving line of credit from Benchmark Bank for the building projects. The board approved Brown’s request, with chairman Robert Bates abstaining from the vote.
Brown also provided an update on the construction of the shell building. He said construction is running behind schedule by about 30 days because of rain and is slated to be complete by the end of the year. He also noted the IDA is awaiting $622,000 in reimbursement from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission for the building construction
The IDA board members received another building project update, when IDA assistant director Tracy Mallard briefed them on the status of a study/ analysis of the former Daystrom Furniture facility at 1120 Greens Folly Road. Mallard shared that Draper Aden Associates, an environmental engineering consulting firm, is collecting and analyzing soil samples from the facility, and she expects the IDA to have the results with the next couple of weeks.
“We’re pretty sure remediation will be needed,” Mallard said. “They found a couple of things that weren’t in the initial report that are going to require additional analysis.”
Once the IDA receives the full report of Draper Aden’s findings, they will know what next steps need to be taken to bring the building up to code and effectively market it for future use.
“This really does give us a greater understanding of where we are with this building,” Brown said. “The building can’t truly be marketed until we know it’s safe.”
A three-year $600,000 Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Assessment grant for the former Daystrom facility was awarded in October 2017, and a new $50,000 grant from the Brownfields fund is taking the remaining monies from the EPA grant along with the funds from the new grant to do the additional testing that needs to be done.
While the IDA has plans to remediate the former Daystrom building and is working with Blue Ribbon Extraction to retrofit the Houghton Industrial Park building for the hemp processing facility, a citizen questioned the IDA’s decisions to recruit Blue Ribbon Extraction to South Boston and not move forward with another company’s proposal earlier this year to lease the former Daystrom facility.
Barbara Coleman-Brown, president of the Halifax County-South Boston NAACP, asked the IDA a series of questions about 40 Acres Co-Op’s communication regarding the lease of the Daystrom facility in the citizen comment portion of Friday’s meeting.
“I am here to speak to you on the issue of the exclusion of the 40 Acres Co-Op from consideration for a lease/ purchase opportunity in Halifax County while great monetary effort went into bringing in another group,” Coleman-Brown said. She went on to highlight the differences between Blue Ribbon Extraction and the 40 Acres Co-Op.
“Blue Ribbon is being led by two former residents of Halifax County while 40 Acres is being led by a 20-year current resident and native of Halifax County, who also happens to be a hemp producer. The 40 Acres group offered a seven-year lease/ own option for $1 million for the old Daystrom building, and the only thing that they requested of IDA was to bring the building up to code (no grants or any of that),” Coleman-Brown said.
Coleman-Brown also claimed several emails from 40 Acres went unanswered by the IDA starting April 22, including an email in which 40 Acres highlighted its plan to do “life science and public health research which included growing, processing, extraction and clinical research of hemp oil.”
The NAACP president also questioned the IDA about why the former Daystrom facility was listed as available for immediate use if it is actually “contaminated” and why the school board’s surplus sale was scheduled there and a children’s sports camp was being held there.
Coleman-Brown also asked IDA more general questions such as what the IDA has done to encourage the participation of black farmers since hemp farming has been identified as a potential growth industry in Halifax County, and whether the IDA has any strategy or policy in place to attract black-owned businesses to Halifax County.
Coleman-Brown requested a written response to her questions from the IDA by the board’s Aug. 21 meeting, and the IDA agreed to her request.