BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SEABROOK — US Foods, a nationwide food distribution giant, wants to relocate to Seabrook from its current facility in Peabody, bringing millions of dollars in construction investments and more than 300 jobs to town.
Representatives from the company briefly described their hopes to Planning Board members Tuesday night. They want to buy the 505,000-square-foot Poland Springs warehouse on Ledge Road, spend close to $40 million in renovations and improvements, bring their 270 Peabody-based employees to run it, then hire as many as 100 new staff members, they said.
Jeffrey Barnes, director of corporate real estate for US Foods, and John Glynn, president of its Boston division, spoke with Planning Board members. The two had already shared their plans with Town Manager Bill Manzi and town planner Tom Morgan.
Barnes and Glynn were at the Planning Board to announce their intent and to seek the board’s advice before officially filing for site plan review. Given the “tight window” they have to acquire the Poland Springs building and 80-acre site, and the need to complete extensive improvements before its lease runs out in Peabody, US Foods needs an organized planning process that moves swiftly, they said.
“We intend to do everything on our end to keep the project moving,” Barnes said.
With no expansion possible at their property in Peabody, the company has spent four years looking at relocation sites, Barnes said. When they found the Seabrook location, they felt Poland Springs’ already existing, huge storage warehouse presents an “exciting and unique opportunity” to relocate from its “older, tired, inefficient” 188,000-square-foot warehouse, they said.
Glynn said, since it is within quick reach of Interstate 95, the Seabrook building would be an ideal place from which to distributes its tens of thousands of products to restaurants, hospitals, schools and government operation throughout eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Most of the renovations to the building, about $30 million worth, would be inside, Barnes said, including turning dry storage to cold and frozen storage areas, to accommodate their entire assortment of products. But some additions would be outside, such as the installation of above-ground fuel tanks, light repair and washing facilities to maintain its extensive fleet of trucks.
One of the things that could prove problematic and time-consuming, however, is that Poland Springs’ Ledge Road lot is in the town’s aquifer recharge area. Allowing automotive repair and fuel on the site would require a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Planning Board chairman Donald Hawkins told Barnes and Glynn.
To gain approval, Hawkins said, US Foods would have to provide a “100 percent guarantee” that there would be no spills that could ever access the groundwater and possibly affect the town’s drinking water wells.
“We’re going to want to know how does a spill gets contained,” Hawkins told the two men. “This is our water supply. There has to be backup upon backup. That’s it. The town’s water has to be protected.”
Both Glynn and Barnes promised the company was prepared to engineer and build whatever needed to prove it could contain any spill that might occur.
“We’re good corporate citizens,” Glynn said. “We live up to the highest standards.”
The Poland Springs facility was built years ago and town officials had high hopes for job creation when it first came to town. However, it never reached the potential projected by its representatives, and it has been for sale or lease in recent years.
Assessed at almost $19,822,000, last year, the building and land generated $287,616 in property taxes, according to town records. However, improvements to the building and site could increase its assessed value.
One of the country’s largest food service distributors, US Foods has 24,000 employees nationwide, with 60 distribution centers in 37 states. With annual revenues of $21 billion, it is among the largest privately held corporations in the country, according to published reports.
With headquarters in Illinois, the company is owned and run by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Inc. and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., two large private equity firms that acquired the company in 2007 for $7.1 billion.