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Dorchester Banner: Franchot gives Bright Lights Award to ESLC

Dorchester Banner

Franchot gives Bright Lights Award to ESLC

August 3, 2017

By Paul Clipper

CAMBRIDGE — Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot came to this city on Aug. 31, to present his Bright Lights Award to the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. The presentation was made inside of the cavernous remains of the Phillips Packing Company’s Factory F on Dorchester Avenue, a location the ESLC is working to restore and re-purpose into an upscale marketplace for regional food purveyors.

Peter Franchot’s Bright lights Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was established by the comptroller’s office. The award celebrates innovation in both private and nonprofit businesses; “innovation that strengthens Maryland’s economy, generates jobs and tax revenue, and develops new ideas that more effectively deliver services and products within the marketplace,” according to the comptroller’s office. One winner is selected from Maryland’s 23 counties and from Baltimore city.

Katie Parks White, the director of conservation for the ESLC, served as emcee for the ceremony. “We’re really excited,” said Ms. White, “the vision for this project is built around resource-based industries and the entrepreneurial strengths of the Eastern Shore.” The “Packing House Project” as the plan for Phillips Factory F is known, will combine services from the Eastern Shore farming and fishing sectors to create a marketplace for a vast array of local, fresh food.

“We’re really committed to Cambridge,” Ms. White told The Banner, “There’s a lot of opportunity for transformational and revitalization here in projects like the Packing House, so we try to be really involved in the community.

“The Packing House is a very ambitious project. We’re re-purposing about 60,000 square feet. It’s a very large building for the Eastern Shore, and especially for the Cambridge market. We’re working with our partners, Cross Street Partners LLC, and we’re working very aggressively towards finance closing this fall, we have about 17 million dollars in new market tax credit allocations, which is a federal program, so we’re trying to see if we can secure enough leasing and complete our $18 million financial model, so that we can close on all our finances. We certainly have some very large hurdles, but we believe by working with our partners, and the community, and the state agencies, that we can turn this into a successful effort.”

The Phillips Factory F location abuts Cambridge Creek, where there is already a 1.8 million dollar stream restoration project in place, including a proposal for a rail-trail replacing the train tracks that bisect the property, and a public park on the old cannery property (behind the Phillips Factory F building).

The proposed development of the packing house includes the expansion of a local brewery, a kitchen business incubator to support local food entrepreneurs, a phased-in co-packing facility to support production in the incubator, a retail food market, collaborative office space for local nonprofits, and a public event space.

In commenting on his presentation of the award, Comptroller Franchot said that ESLC was “taking this warehouse, that was so important to the region, and are going to restore it to some of its former grandeur. I see these steel beams all around us (indicating the superstructure of the inside of the factory) and see them as evidence that we have strong economic bones in Dorchester County.”

Attending the event along with Mr. Franchot were Secretary Kenneth Holt of the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development, Senator Addie Eckardt, Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley, Delegate Johnny Mautz, Dorchester County Council President Ricky Travers, Mike Binko of Startup Maryland, and a large group of people interested in and related to the project.

Mayor Stanley welcomed the crowd in an address that brought back her days growing up in Cambridge and being able to witness the impact that the Phillips company had on the town and neighborhoods. Ricky Travers too remembered days when he delivered goods to the packing house from his family store.

Secretary Holt spoke very briefly, and commented that his office was happy to participate in the restoration and revitalization of Cambridge in projects like the Packing House, and he pledged that his office would do all it could for the benefit of Cambridge and the Eastern Shore.

Accepting the award was Rob Etgen, executive director of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. ESLC was founded in 1990 as a result of widespread concern that the Eastern Shore’s important wildlife habitat and prime farmland were being consumed by sprawling development. The decision was made by the founders to preserve land on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in order to keep prime farmland in agriculture, to protect unique natural areas, and to perpetually monitor those lands to ensure that preservation is permanent.

Preservation and restoration of the Packing House to a new purpose may seem an unusual project for a land conservancy organization, but the ESLC recognizes that preservation also includes creating markets for local farms, agriculture and aquaculture in the region.

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