ELLSWORTH, Maine — Just seven months after announcing its intent to buy, the Jackson Laboratory is under contract for the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth and anticipates closing the deal by the end of the month.
A spokeswoman for the Bar Harbor lab confirmed Tuesday that Lowe’s and the lab have agreed to complete the sale and are simply working through the final paperwork, but she said it would still be some time before Jackson Lab opens for business in Ellsworth.
“We expect to have some warehousing, some administration and some mouse production there,” said Joyce Peterson, the lab’s public information manager. “What mix of those three hasn’t really been defined yet and it’s going to be a while before they finish the planning. It will take quite a bit of renovation, so it’ll be a few years before anyone’s working in that building.”
Lowe’s opened its Ellsworth location at 21 Kingsland Crossing in January 2008 and shuttered the store — along with 19 other underperforming Lowe’s nationwide — in November of last year. The closure left 83 workers jobless.
The seven-month negotiation for the nearly 18-acre parcel included amendments to the city’s Unified Development Ordinance. City Planner Michele Gagnon said that laboratories and research and development already were permitted uses in the city’s commercial zone.
But the definition of those uses still needed to be expanded to accommodate Jackson Lab, which provides more than 2.7 million lab mice to thousands of laboratories worldwide each year.
“The old ordinance didn’t allow for production of research material or the breeding of animals,” Gagnon said Tuesday. The necessary changes were approved by the City Council in June.
It’s a time of immense growth for the Jackson Lab. Aside from the all-but-guaranteed Ellsworth expansion, the lab also is growing its Sacremento, Calif., campuses and plans to break ground on a 250,000-square-foot research facility in Connecticut in January.
Plus, expansion is ongoing at the flagship Bar Harbor campus’ research and mouse-production facilities, Peterson said.
“We’re growing all three campuses,” she said Tuesday. “We have 30 open positions just here in Bar Harbor, and that’s not even counting the research recruiting we’re doing.”
The former Lowe’s building is more than 140,000 square feet, with ample parking, and is already set up with adequate utilities for the lab.
“By setting up production, warehousing and administrative functions in the Ellsworth facility, the Laboratory will bring year-round jobs with good pay and excellent benefits to Ellsworth,” wrote Jackson Laboratory’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, Charles Hewett, in March.
Hewett said some of those jobs would be new, but others would be moved from Bar Harbor. About 60 percent of the roughly 1,400 Bar Harbor-based employees commute from off-island, he said, so the relocated workers would see a cut in their commute time of about an hour.
After the deal closes, Jackson Laboratory will face Ellsworth Planning Board Review before it can begin renovations and eventually open its doors in Ellsworth. Gagnon, the city planner, said the lab is clearly a good fit for the city.
“The question for us was: Does it fit our vision? Is it compatible with the area? We believe it is,” she said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.