BY ANGELO LYNN
PROCTOR — An industrial hemp manufacturing company, ZION Corporation, expressed interest in buying the 87,000-square-foot property at 52 Main Street in Proctor that was formerly the headquarters of Proctor Marble and has long been the home of the Vermont Marble Museum.
ZION co-owners Brandon McFarlane, who is listed as CEO of the corporation, and Travis Samuels, chief operating officer, presented their business plan to the Proctor Selectboard on Monday night in an informal presentation, as well as a formal letter of interest.
Within that letter, the two explained the concept of development:
“The ZION Corporation’s secondary business interest involves acquiring former industrial properties that are typically unique and of significant importance or sentimentality to the locale, however in need of repair and/or reuse that better serves the community… We envision using the property as the second of two industrial hemp-processing facilities, the first being located in St. Johnsbury, Vt.
“An industrial hemp processing facility takes baled and dried industrial hemp stocks, puts them through specialized processing machinery that outputs hemp hurd — a wood-like material similar to wood chips, and hemp fiber, a natural fiber used in burlap and other textiles. The process is not water intensive and relies exclusively on electricity to run the facility as opposed to gas or other combustion methods to run the machinery.”
The purpose of the hemp crop, the owners said, “is purely for industrial applications and in no way is used for the development of CBD based products. The crop also enables farmers who currently hay to use their same equipment and doesn’t require any specialized equipment.”
The two went on to explain that farmers who grow hemp would bale “the dried hemp in their fields during harvest season and bring the hemp bales to the facility where they will be stored until they are processed.” The facility, as is, would require “minimal upfit inside to accommodate the machinery and proves the space necessary for forklifts to maneuver. Otherwise, no major renovation, particularly to the exterior of the building is required for its proposed use.”
The owners addressed the issues of community impact and the Marble Museum, noting that their intent was to continue to provide a long-term home for the Vermont Marble Museum and to compliment the community in all ways.
“Our business model centers around complimenting the character of a locale, not destroying it. We understand the importance of maintaining the livability of an area… Our commitment is to ensure that the cultural makeup of Proctor remains intact.”
Along with McFarlane and Samuels were a full room of about 20 people, including representatives of the Vermont Marble Museum, Preservation Trust of Vermont (which currently owns the building), and Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region, all of who spoke on behalf of the Zion Corporation’s interest in acquiring the property.
“What I like about the interest is that they have a good focus on community and preserving the museum, they’re young and energetic, and the agricultural focus will help our area farmers,” said CEDRR Executive Director Lyle Jepson. “And that building, structurally, has good bones and I hate to see it deteriorate further.”
Jepson couldn’t comment on the number of employees that might eventually be hired at the facility, noting the discussions so far are very preliminary and that level of details has yet to be fleshed out.
Leaders of the Vermont Marble Museum added their enthusiastic support of ZION’s proposed interest saying they were “encouraged by Zion Growers’ plans to revitalize 52 Main into an active production facility,” adding that “ZION has expressed an interest in working with the Museum to ensure our continued presence in this historic mill. Their operations will bring positive activity to the building and provide a synergy between modern day industry and the industrial heritage of the site. Working together, we believe that both the Museum and Zion Growers have greater potential for success.”
The Preservation Trust of Vermont President Ben Doyle emphasized that neither party has entered into any binding agreement and that talks are very preliminary, but said they were “continuing to do due diligence in good faith” and that the PTV’s goal is for “the building and the museum to serve as a vital community asset. We believe a partnership with ZION could potentially accomplish both.”
Jepson noted that “quite a few pieces needed to come together” before a purchase agreement could be signed, but noted that all parties were hopeful and supportive. The owners noted at the meeting that one timeline was to be able to begin operations there by the end of the year and to be operational in the building by May 2022. Zion Growers is the agricultural division of ZION Corporation, which would be operating the hemp manufacturing business, depending, of course, on meeting all conditions of any proposed sale.
The selectboard made a motion to waive any past water bills at 109 Deer Lane, and agreed to a proposal to reduce the $10,000 budget increase for the town pool to an increase of $3,000 in the upcoming budget. The pool would be also operated five days a week, rather than the proposed seven days.
The board also agreed to renew a contract with the town assessor and to hire an assistant assessor, as had been done in the past.