WILTON — Under an overcast sky, John Black, who recently bought the former Wilton Tanning Co. property, looked into the skeleton of the 62,000-square-foot building and spoke eagerly about his ambitions for the redevelopment of the space, which has stood empty for nearly 10 years.

Black, who owns Rocky Hill Landscaping, placed his bid on the property last March after the town had started its second round of requests for proposals on the sale and redevelopment of the site — a time in which it seemed no one wanted to take on the massive overhaul project that would be necessary to make something of the dilapidated factory, Black said.

But after putting initial reservations aside, Black, a Wilton selectman, withdrew from the board’s vote, and he and his brother, James Black, put their names into the hat for ownership.

“I got it for a dollar, but when we’re all done, we’re looking at a 1.2-to-1.4 million-dollar buildout,” Black said.

Standing next to a bonfire of debris Wednesday afternoon behind the building, Black was looking 10 years into the future, when he hopes the property he reluctantly bought becomes a commercial park housing a range of businesses big or small.

The sale of the 15-acre property was finalized in June, and Black became the sole owner when his brother signed over his half. Since then, Black has invested $25,000 in the project, and a crew of workers has begun gutting the building, removing air ducts, debris from caved-in parts of roof and junk that has piled up in the building since it began its sentence in limbo when the tannery ceased operations more than 10 years ago, Black said.


He said that now they’re just cleaning up. “We’ve taken out old wet insulation and plywood. We’ve gutted out the office space — Dumpster after Dumpster full,” he said.

As far as immediate progress, Black is shooting to have at least 10,000 square feet of the building heated and any structurally unsound areas of the roof stabilized before winter. Over the summer he has insured the site and connected it to the electrical grid.

“We’re redeveloping the whole thing,” Black said. “The outside of the building will look a lot different.”

When the tannery closed, a number of businesses floated in and out of the space until the property was seized by the town for the owner’s failure to pay taxes in 2010. Then the town began to address what Town Manager Rhonda Irish said was the property’s biggest roadblock to development: cleaning up the site’s environmental contaminants that were left over from the tannery.

When the town took over ownership, the site already had been on the Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency’s contaminated-site lists, and town officials began to work with the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments to secure brownfields grants from the DEP and the EPA to start the environmental cleanup process, Irish said.

Phase one and two of the grant process were assessments of the sites conducted by the EPA and the DEP to determine the contaminants present and the necessary cleanup process. Once those were complete, Irish was able to apply for funding through the brownfields programs to conduct the cleanup. After consolidating all of the leftover leather scraps using the original $200,000 grant, Wilton received another $150,000 to bury and cap the contaminants on site. The majority of the contaminant consolidation was completed in summer 2014, but Irish said the cleanup was completed officially in August.


“These types of things, to do it properly, do take time. We are pleased to see that the property is going back into development, and it should be a good development for the town,” she said.

The property will begin to be put to use this fall, Black said, when he moves into the structure his vermicomposting project, a method of composting that uses worms to create and break down compost. Black also plans to have the heated parts of the space available for rent before winter, as well as having unheated space available for storage.

Black is applying for business loans and federal development grants to bring a wider array of businesses into the long-term development of the site.

“Its basically going to be a business park. We’re going to put retail, wholesale, manufacturing and whatever. We just want to fill it full of local businesses,” Black said.

Black said he has been in negotiations to bring in a solar company to install panels on top of the area of the property where the contaminants have been buried since the installation of a solar farm would not require digging. He also is considering extending the fiber-optic lines on Main Street to the site, which would allow the creation of office space in the front of the building that Black would rent to local people who telecommute and do not have reliable Internet service at home.

Black is particularly excited about a project he hopes to take on himself at the future business park: an organic food store and market that would sell locally grown and made food items.


“People look at (this site) and are like, ‘What are you, nuts?'” Black said. “No one bid on this, so what’s it going to do? … It’s just going to sit, and the town is not going to collect taxes on it. I really didn’t need another project, but at the same time I’m not paying rent and I can develop this. I’ve got the potential and the manpower.”

On Thursday, the town will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m. at the site to acknowledge the numerous governmental organizations and townspeople who have had a hand in transforming the former tannery from an environmental concern into an economic development project, Black said.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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