Longmont Ponders Next Phase for Former Butterball Plant
Last year’s closure of the Butterball turkey-processing plant in Longmont has city leaders pondering what to do with the plant. KUNC’s Brian Larson spoke to Boulder County Business Report publisher Chris Wood about what might be next.
Larson:Let’s dial back to September of 2011 – that’s when Butterball said it was closing this facility and eliminating 350 jobs. Why was that decision made?
Wood: The company at the time cited high fuel costs and a desire to streamline operations. One factor was much higher prices for feed ingredients such as corn, which has seen prices spike because of demand for corn-based ethanol. Butterball said that feed price increases have averaged $65 million dollars a year over the past five years. Additionally, the Longmont location in recent years did not process turkeys. Instead, it produced value-added turkey products, meaning that meat had to be shipped from plants in Missouri and the Southeast. That’s where the higher fuel costs came into play. Finally, the plant itself, with multiple floors in several buildings, was not designed as efficiently as modern plants, most of which are built on a single level in a single building. All of those factors ultimately led to this closure.
Larson: And that leaves an enormous void at the Longmont Butterball location. Is there any bright side to this closure as we start off a New Year?
Wood:While everyone laments the closure of the plant and its effect on the Longmont work force, many are excited that this property has come into play for redevelopment. One economic-development official described it as a “generational opportunity.” The plant itself is located at a prime spot in the heart of downtown Longmont at First and Main Streets. It encompasses 27 acres and 272,000 square feet, so its sheer size makes it a potentially huge redevelopment opportunity. But its greatest asset is probably its location. Not only does it neighbor dozens of downtown businesses, but it’s also adjacent to a proposed FasTracks rail line.
Larson: Given those advantages, what’s likely to happen with the Butterball plant itself? Are there any firm ideas floating out there?
Wood: That’s a huge question that company and city officials are just beginning to explore. Company officials have held out the possibility that another food-processing company might want to take over the plant. It does have a lot of valuable equipment that could prove attract to another company. But it’s also very possible that the site will be redeveloped, with the city probably taking a lead role. Ideas are sketchy at this point, but some sort of mixed-use facility is certainly possible, with retail, office and residential. Longmont also has a vibrant arts scene, and it’s possible that the arts could be brought into the mix. But, really, it’s too soon to tell.
Larson: You noted the site’s proximity to a FasTracks rail line. How might that play into redevelopment plans?
Wood:The Regional Transportation District has allocated $17 million dollars for a bus facility and park-n-ride on First Avenue, although funding for the northwest rail line is very uncertain. If it does get built, it’s very possible that the Butterball site could play into that project somehow, with complementary development.
Larson: What role is Longmont going to play in this possible redevelopment?
Wood:There are a lot of scenarios, depending on what Butterball decides to do. If the plant is redeveloped and not taken over by another food processor, it’s very likely that the city would partner with a private developer somehow. One scenario would be for the city to purchase the plant, then sell it to a private developer. We saw this scenario very recently in Loveland, when the city purchased the former Agilent Technologies plant and resold it to a developer for transformation into the ACE aerospace and clean energy manufacturing center. Much of the Butterball plant is located in Longmont’s urban-renewal district, so it’s also likely that tax-increment financing could play a role in any new project.
Larson: Chris Wood is the publisher of the Boulder County Business Report.