The Plastics Group of America will spend more than $1 million to restore a 105-year-old wool mill complex in Woonsocket, R.I.
The Woonsocket-based compounder plans to be occupying part of the 240,000-square-foot building by the end of the year. The complex was built between 1907 and 1925 and operated for many years as the Jules Desurmont Worsted Mill.
TPG is buying the site from a California-based real estate development company. TPG officials declined to disclose the purchase price of the property, which includes almost 7 acres of land along the Blackstone River.
TPG President Bob Lebeaux said in a May 15 phone interview that although he had been aware of the site for several years, he found it to be “in better shape than I thought it was,” when he toured the facility.
“It needs sprinklers and a new electrical system, but overall it wasn't too bad, considering how long ago it was built,” he added.
Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine said city officials “appreciate TPG's commitment to the city, and value them as a business neighbor that contributes to our city's commercial growth on an ongoing basis.”
In a news release, he also commended TPG on its safety record, pointing out that it “has repeatedly been recognized” at state and federal levels for its “commitment to worker safety.”
The mill is about a mile away from TPG's 65,000-square-foot plant, which is almost maxed out for space. It has been leasing 13,000 square feet of nearby warehousing space because of the crunch. Lebeaux said that after the new site opens, TPG will use it for warehousing and recycling, freeing up the existing plant for production work. Doing so will allow TPG to install an additional twin-screw extruder, which should be up and running by the end of the year, Lebeaux said.
TPG could be using the mill site by Oct. 1, he added. The expansion will create 10-15 new jobs. TPG now employs about 45.
The mill building had stood vacant for about eight years, since it was used as warehousing space by local companies. It last was used for manufacturing about 20 years ago when it was occupied by luggage maker American Tourister.
The site is listed on the National Register and is eligible for state preservation grants for historic rehabilitation products. The structure includes full-width segmental-arch or rectangular window openings, brick corbeling near cornices and protruding sills.
“It gives us a great deal of pleasure to be involved with the restoration of such a magnificent complex,” Lebeaux said in the release. “Especially returning it to its manufacturing roots, as opposed to converting it to another use, a fate which has befallen far too many majestic buildings like these in recent years.”
Acquiring the site took a bit longer than TPG expected because of its convoluted ownership. In recent years, a group that included investors from New Zealand had planned to build condominiums at the site. That plan disappeared when the state elimi- nated a 30 percent tax credit.
A local businessman also at one point claimed that he owned the site because he had bought its tax title. The businessman announced plans to use the site for used-car auctions, but his ownership claim later was ruled invalid.
Two similar closed factories along the Blackstone River have been destroyed in the last year. A factory built in 1812 burned down after a welder's torch started a fire while it was being renovated for use as a wood-pellet fuel factory. A second factory was torn down after heavy snow caused its roof to collapse.
Lebeaux founded scrap reseller Ralco Industries Inc. in nearby Manville, R.I., in 1973. The firm entered the compounding market in 1980 and changed its name to Plastics Group of America in 1988. Lebeaux's childhood friend Mike Rosenthal joined the firm in 1979 and now co-owns TPG with Lebeaux, serving as executive vice president.
TPG has sales of about $30 million, generating more than half of them from Polifil-brand filled polypropylene compounds for food packaging, medical and trays.