MADISON — There is a different sort of hum at the former Madison paper mill these days.

Gone is the hot, loud blast of a giant paper machine rolling out 195,000 tons of paper annually after the mill closed in May 2016 and put about 215 people out of work.

The hum amid the quiet industrial corridors of the mill and its offices now is all business — phone calls and walking tours with prospective buyers taking notes on the mill’s equipment and value.

Everything is for sale, said Jerome Epstein, 81, whose father, Perry Epstein, founded Perry Videx, a used equipment and machinery company in 1932. Perry Videx is one of the partners of Somerset Acquisition LLC, the group of new owners who purchased the mill in December. The mill property was sold to a “joint venture” of New Mill Capital Holdings, of New York; Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey; and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto. The mill was sold to the group in December 2016.

“We buy and sell machinery just like people buy and sell used cars,” Epstein said from the mill offices this past week. “And when someone shuts a plant down, we buy it and occasionally we’ve been able to sell plants completely the way they are, but mostly we sell off the equipment and re-purpose the real estate to see if we can find other uses for it.”

Epstein said there are several companies interested in the equipment at the mill, including the paper machine itself, which under the agreement with the former seller, UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Co., could be used in place to make paper, so long as the product is not in direct competition with UPM.

“We are trying to sell the paper machine,” he said. “It’s not a dead certainty by any means — it’s a long shot because it’s a big machine — but it’s a beautiful machine, it’s in wonderful condition.”

Epstein said the best case would be to find someone to come in, buy the machine and operate it right there in Madison without having to spend money to take it apart, move it and reassemble it.

The final part of the sale of the mill properties came Tuesday, when the former owners announced an agreement on the sale of its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey.

Now, according to Epstein and Gregory Schain, principal of New Mill Capital Holdings, the plan is to sell what they can and find tenants or buyers for the vacant buildings.

Tours of the old paper mill are conducted by Jaime Broce, the manager and supervisor for Somerset Acquisition. That group escorts interested buyers through the sprawling plant, which produced supercalendered paper used for glossy magazine publishing in Madison since 1978. Broce, 69, moved temporarily to the Madison area in January with his wife from their home in Monterrey, Mexico. He has worked with Epstein’s company since 2007, but this was his first winter in Maine.

“It was terrible,” he quipped of the recent winter, during a tour of what was the No. 3 paper machine, the drying room and the maintenance area of the shuttered mill, now all sitting silent. Paper machines No. 1 and 2 were dismantled years ago, he said.

Touring the mill last week, there was an eerie quiet with only the buzz of electric lights in the air.

“It was really, really loud,” Broce said of the mill when it was up and running. “All the pumps running, all the agitators working, the rollers, they make a lot of noise. Now it’s very quiet — sad.”

In the last 16 years, demand for newsprint declined 15 percent and for glossy paper between 30 and 50 percent, according to an industry analyst.

Once employing more than 18,000 workers at its height in the 1960s, the paper-making industry in Maine has lost more than 1,500 jobs in the last two years. There are just six operating paper mills left in Maine.

Broce said the best way for Somerset Acquisition to make a profit on its purchase is to sell the equipment whole, not in pieces or parts and not as scrap metal. He said there are paper-making plants in other countries such as Brazil, India and Turkey that could be interested in a working American paper machine that if purchased new would cost $500 million. The Madison paper machine was upgraded in 2001 at a cost of $55 million and is in good condition, he said.

The Catalyst paper mill in Rumford already has purchased some pieces of equipment and some valves have been sold, Broce said. He said there will be an auction of some of the smaller, movable items such as step ladders, floor cleaning machines, regulators and fans this summer.

Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. The acquisition of the mill site — which closed for an undisclosed price — included the real estate of the main paper mill site as well as all mill equipment.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

Schain, at New Mill Capital, said the announced sale of the hydropower assets helps turn the page and open up a new era for central Maine.

“I think it’s great,” he said this past week. “It finally closes one chapter and hopefully opens another for property in the area. Now that UPM is mostly out of the picture, hopefully the two parties — us and Eagle Creek — can work together to bring some economic life back to the site.”

Schain said there are businesses interested in the site, but would not say which companies have their eye on Madison. The town has courted Poland Spring about possibly occupying the site. Schain said discussions with future buyers or tenants have been on hold, pending the sale of the hydro assets. Now, he said, those discussions can advance.

Epstein said Perry Videx is now into its fourth generation, with his son and now his granddaughter having a role in operations. He said he started with his father’s company, Perry Equipment & Supply of Philadelphia, in 1957.

He said his company was successful in re-purposing the former Wausau paper mill in Groveton, New Hampshire. He said a new company has come in and is manufacturing metal products there. They employ only about 40 people, a far cry from when the mill was making paper, but it is a start, he said, and it’s better than no jobs at all.

A year ago New Mill Capital sold and re-purposed the 265,000-square-foot Hostess Brands bakery in Biddeford. FedEx opened a distribution center there last year, Schain said.

Schain said in January that his company has purchased more than 11 million square feet of space in the last five years, and almost all of it has been put back to use. He said other paper mills have left “and just scrapped the place and left a blank space in the middle of town.”

“That’s certainly not our intent,” he said. “If that was going to be our business plan, I wouldn’t have bothered doing this deal in the first place. It’s certainly in everyone’s best interest to bring in the best use we can for the site.”

Epstein said he, too, is optimistic.

“It’s a possible market — it’s a probable market,” he said of the prospect of selling the Madison paper machine. “There’s more of a market for that machine now outside of the U.S. than there is here because there’s not that much going on here as far as paper goes. The internet has taken care of that.”

If the machine can not be sold whole, then sections of it will be sold, Epstein said. The worst case would be selling it for scrap. He said the company will spend at least a year, maybe two years, trying to find a buyer for the machine before they decide to scrap it.

“We want to try to do the best we can for ourselves … for the people here,” Epstein said. “The best outcome for us would be to have somebody come in here and start operating — that’s what we want to do.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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