RIVERBANK — Mid Valley Foods long ago outgrew its 13,000-square-foot facility on Sierra Street and has been looking for a place to expand.
The owners say they've found an ideal location — the ammunition plant-turned-industrial park, which the city is in the process of acquiring from the Army on April 1.
"We definitely plan to hire more workers," said Cheri Casey, who owns the 17-employee wholesale food distributor with her husband, Les.
City officials say Mid Valley is one of five firms interested in doing business at the facility at Claus and Claribel roads and the companies would employ 500 workers within five years of beginning operation.
The city envisions turning the ammunition plant into a green-jobs-friendly industrial park. Riverbank took another step toward that goal this week when the City Council unanimously approved sending the city's Economic Development Conveyance application to the Army. The application spells out the city's case for why it should acquire the facility.
"This is a tool that says we are going to use this property for economic development and minimize the effect of the (Army's) closure of the plant," Debbie Olson, the city's plant project manager, said in an interview.
The city expects to acquire the plant at no cost, but it won't get all 168 acres. The Army plans to sell about 35 acres in an online auction in January.
"We believe the fair market value of the property we are acquiring is zero and will require no money to change hands," Olson said.
Mid Valley is not the only Riverbank business interested in the plant. Olson said Rizo Lopez Foods has picked two parcels it wants to buy from the city to expand its operations.
She said three green-friendly firms from outside of the area — Technikon, Clean World Partners and Plastifuel — round out the five firms eyeing the plant.
The plant has several businesses, which employ about 300 workers. The city's EDC application says the plant could have 1,400 workers within eight years of the takeover.
The Army typically takes 30 days to review an EDC application. Olson cautioned that the Army's acceptance of the application would not mean the city has acquired the plant. She said there would be more negotiations before the city's expected April 1 takeover.
The city also needs to negotiate new leases with the park's businesses, which would take effect April 1.
Contaminant concerns raised
At Monday's council meeting, two residents raised concerns about making sure the Army is responsible for cleaning up contaminants.
Olson said the city shares that concern and has hired an environmental lawyer. She added that federal and state environmental agencies are reviewing the takeover.
Olson said the Army has been removing contaminants from the site for more than 20 years but the pace has quickened since the Pentagon announced in 2005 that it would be closing the plant under the Army's Base Realignment and Closure program.
Army contractor NI Industries, which forges metal parts for military defense contractors, manages the 66-year-old ammunition plant. NI started laying off employees this year as it scaled down production; its management contract ends March 31.
Riverbank expects to spend as much as $27.5 million over 15 years for infrastructure and capital improvements at the site. Olson said the money could come from grants, a special taxing district for the industrial park's businesses, lease revenue from tenants and the sale of land.
Mid Valley plans to buy about four acres fronting Claus Road from the city for its expansion, Cheri Casey said, adding that one reason they picked the plant was because of the city's business-friendly approach.
She and her husband abandoned their expansion plans in another Stanislaus County city when the process grew too frustrating. Casey declined to name the city.
Mid Valley hopes to be in the industrial park by the end of next summer and expects business to grow 25 percent in the first six months there.
"We have customers we are serving now who'd like more product," Casey said, "but we don't have more space."
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.