PORTLAND, Maine — A Boston-based lobster company said Thursday it plans to complete its acquisition of the nation’s last full-time sardine cannery by the middle of January, despite snags that have put the purchase of the idled Maine plant months behind schedule.
The closing date for the former Stinson Seafood plant in Gouldsboro is now scheduled for Jan. 14, but the sale could occur before then, said Antonio Bussone, president of Live Lobster Co. Bussone plans to use the plant to handle lobsters and lobster bait but not to process sardines.
Bumble Bee Foods LLC closed the plant in April, costing nearly 130 jobs. The goal had been to complete the sale by early October.
The sale has been pushed back because of the complexity of the deal and a lawsuit that has forced Live Lobster to find a new lender to finance the purchase, Bussone said.
“I know that there have been delays, but we’re talking about a pretty serious purchase here and a big property,” he said. “It’s not as simple as buying a two-bedroom condo.”
Gouldsboro selectmen aren’t convinced Live Lobster will complete the deal on the century-old property where generations of workers packed the small, oily sardines. The company assured townspeople it would begin operations last summer, even before the sale was completed, but the plant has remained empty, they said.
“I don’t think anyone’s feeling confident,” Selectman Dana Rice said. “Obviously, everyone in this area would like to see jobs created there, there’s no doubt about that. But there are a lot of ifs here, I would say.”
When the Stinson plant shut down it marked the end of an era in Maine, which once had scores of canneries along its ragged coast. Production has declined since peaking 60 years ago, and plants fell by the wayside until the Stinson plant was the last full-time cannery still operating in the U.S.
Bussone insists the sale will take place, saying Bumble Bee already has cashed a $100,000 security deposit he made when he signed a purchase-and-sales agreement. In an e-mail from its public relations firm, Bumble Bee said it’s still working toward completing the deal.
One of the complications is a lawsuit filed against Bussone in June by his company’s former general manager. A judge’s decision last week prevents Live Lobster from using existing assets as collateral to purchase the plant with financing through TD Bank.
Bussone said he’s not pleased with the court order but that he has financing lined up from other lenders if needed.
When the sale is complete, Bussone said, he plans to build a tank that can hold up to 180,000 pounds of lobster and a large cooler to store bait for lobstermen. He hopes to have 30 to 40 employees by the end of 2011.
There are also concerns that the sale of the Stinson plant could be jeopardized by the sale of Bumble Bee Foods itself.
The British investment firm Lion Capital LLP said last month that it has agreed to buy Bumble Bee Foods, which is based in San Diego, from private equity firm Centre Partners Management LLC for an undisclosed sum.
“I don’t know what they intend to do with this little factory here in Maine,” Selectman Bill Thayer said. “I don’t know what it will mean to the new owners.”