Athol looks to marijuana cultivation to create jobs in old mill

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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.

Rebecca Rutenberg