April 05, 2020

Houlton still optimistic about HIC complex

HOULTON – Although the building remains empty, the town’s economic development consultant said recently that there is still significant interest from prospective businesses in the former Houlton International Corp. building.

Brian Hamel, who was hired by the town as a consultant 15 months ago, talked about the status of the 73,000-square-foot facility and his predictions for its future during an interview last week.

Two years ago, the Shiretown Development Corp. entered into a $161,000 purchase-and-sale agreement with officials from the former HIC facility, a specialty wood products manufacturer that shut its doors in 2002 and took 55 jobs with it.

The SDC board functions as an economic development arm for the town, and purchased the building with the goal of using it to attract a larger business to the area.

The decision to buy the facility, which is located in the town’s industrial park, was not an easy one for some residents or SDC members. Some felt that the building was expensive, in dismal condition and too costly to maintain.

In the months after the sale went through, the SDC board also struggled over whether to stray from their original plan and lease portions of the facility to several smaller businesses. Some members wanted to adhere to their original goal of attracting one large enterprise, while others advocated for generating revenue by leasing out segments of the complex to several tenants.

The group eventually negotiated a deal with Premium Log Yards Inc., a Houlton business that leases the sawmill building and sawdust shed, in concert with an additional 2 acres nearby.

Since then, however, no other firms have taken up residence in the complex.

Although most of the building remains in darkness, Hamel said that he believes the future of the facility is bright.

“One of the most important things about the HIC facility is that it is in great shape structurally,” he pointed out. “It definitely needs some upgrades, but the building’s structure and layout make it very attractive to certain companies.”

Hamel said that the town has showed the building to several companies, most of which are industrial manufacturing enterprises.

“Those people have been very impressed with the facility,” he noted. “The existence of a building like that in Houlton, one that the town has control over and can move on quickly to get a business in there, is a huge asset.”

Since taking possession of the property, the SDC has made several changes, including demolishing a decrepit cinder block building on the HIC grounds and selling a pre-dryer system within the building that was used to dry wood.

While Hamel admitted that he shares in the frustration of other town officials who would like to see the building occupied, he stressed that patience is the key.

“If someone came to the table tomorrow and wanted to use that building to employ 50 or 75 people, I’d be the first one to say, ‘Sell it,'” he noted. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, but I am optimistic that it will.”

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