HAMPDEN, Maine — Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine has purchased the former printing plant of Bangor Publishing Co., owner of the Bangor Daily News, the hunger relief organization announced Wednesday.
The food bank will relocate its Brewer distribution center to the 40,000-square-foot facility located at 11 Penobscot Meadow Drive in Hampden and plans to begin operations there in January 2016.
Good Shepherd plans to sell its 7,400-square-foot warehouse at 88 Stevens Road in Brewer, according to Director of Philanthropy Melissa Huston. It also has a distribution warehouse in Biddeford.
The larger facility in Hampden will provide additional cold storage space for perishable items, including fresh produce, meat and dairy products. Demand for cold storage space has increased as a result of the organization’s heightened emphasis on nutrition, Good Shepherd said in a news release.
More than half of the 23 million pounds of food the organization distributes annually is perishable. In contrast, the group’s Brewer facility had just 300 square feet of cold storage.
“This warehouse now becomes a huge asset for our network of partners in the region, including food pantries, farmers, volunteers and many other community collaborators,” Kristen Miale, president of the food bank, said.
“This milestone would not have been possible without the leadership of the Bangor Daily News and the generosity of the Warren family, who were both genuinely engaged in making this transaction achievable for our organization,” she said.
Headquartered in Auburn, Good Shepherd Food Bank is the state’s largest charitable hunger relief organization. It distributes food to more than 400 partner agencies across the state, including food pantries, meal sites, schools and senior programs.
Last year, it distributed 17.5 million meals to families, children and seniors statewide.
“We were gratified for the opportunity to work with Good Shepherd,” Rick Warren, publisher of the Bangor Daily News, said. “Its work is so important across all of Maine that we were eager to find a way to help out. Having our plant become a food-distribution center is a wonderful way to give it new life and purpose.”
Bangor Publishing Co. shuttered its Hampden printing plant in 2013, contracting out the majority of its printing to Sun Media Group, owner of the Sun Journal in Lewiston.
In an interview Wednesday, Good Shepherd officials noted the 40,000-square-foot building has more space than they currently need.
Good Shepherd is expected to initially occupy only 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of the building when it opens in January, said Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Matt Chin.
The extra space opens up a range of opportunities for the organization to generate revenue, said Miale, including the possibility of partnering with another organization to create a regional food hub at the site.
A food hub is a business or organization that provides resources like warehouse space, trucking and marketing that enable local farmers to better compete with large food wholesalers.
They work with many farmers so that locally grown food can meet the demands of high volume consumers like schools, restaurants and grocery stores while remaining visible by letting the buyer know where the food comes from.
Good Shepherd officials are still considering that option. Much will depend on a market research study being done by the Maine Farmland Trust to determine whether there is demand for food hubs.
That study is due out in March.
Other options include leasing out cold-storage space for use by growers and providing
space for growers and Good Shepherd volunteers to prepare food for distribution.
“This building gives us a lot of options even if one of those options ends up being we’re going to subdivide it and lease out parts of it,” Miale said.
The larger facility also could be used to provide extra storage space for other charitable food distributors throughout New England, officials said.
“We don’t have all our ducks in a row, but we have enough to make us confident we have a use for this place,” Miale said.
Huston said Good Shepherd will retrofit the former printing facility with modular refrigeration units that will be assembled inside the building. Officials did not have a cost estimate for that project Wednesday.
However, they said refitting their facilities in Auburn cost $1.2 million, and they expect the Hampden project to cost more than that.
A public fundraising campaign for the project is expected.
Details of the sale were not disclosed. Hampden’s Assessing Department estimated the 25-acre site’s total value, including the building, at $1.42 million as of June 6.
Epstein Commercial Real Estate managed the transaction.
Good Shepherd will host an event to offer details on its plans for the region at 10 a.m. Nov. 12 at the Hampden facility.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.