Pot-growing center proposed for Wilton Township
BY ERIN GALLAGHER Correspondent September 2, 2014 5:02PM
The 35-acre farmland property at U.S. 52 and Offner Road in Wilton Township south of Manhattan could become home to a medical marijuana cultivation facility. | Erin Gallagher/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2014 2:09AM
Three New York investors have bought a 35-acre site near Manhattan and hope to get a marijuana cultivation license from the state of Illinois.
Calling themselves White Oak Growers, they are inviting local residents to a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Manhattan Village Hall to explain their plans.
Peter Ford, Steve Maslak and Ken Salamone intend to invest $8 million to $12 million in the marijuana-growing business should the state grant their application, Ford said.
Under the new medical marijuana law, Illinois will grant only 22 cultivation licenses. Unlike other states that have looser rules, Ford said the group was attracted to Illinois’ stricter regulations because of their background in the heavily regulated energy industry.
“We work well with rules, and we work well with capital-intensive businesses,” Ford said.
He said the three men do not own or operate other marijuana-growing operations, but some of their minority shareholders do, including two who own a pot-growing center in Colorado and another who owns a large-scale greenhouse business in Illinois.
Illinois is attractive for marijuana cultivation because it has more of a top-down approach, using an agribusiness model with the Illinois Department of Agriculture the primary regulator, Ford said. The application deadline for a cultivation center is Sept. 22.
Ford said the firm hopes that its community outreach will be viewed favorably by the state. At Monday’s meeting, the men intend to address potential misconceptions about how the business will run — a 70,000-square-foot building that will have about 40,000 square feet for a greenhouse and the rest being used for offices.
“The most important thing is this will be a low-profile facility, hidden in plain view with shrubs,” Ford said. “Nothing to see, no meaningful uptick in traffic.”
The business intends to have about 45 full-time workers and will recruit military veterans with good pay and benefits, he said.
“We’ve done everything that we know how to do to communicate that this is not some kind of ‘Cheech and Chong’ situation, but that we are serious people who take the needs of people very seriously,” Ford said.
The land is on the southwest corner of U.S. 52 and Offner Road, about five miles south of Manhattan in Wilton Township. It’s across from a horse stable and a mile from a dairy operation.
Village administrator Kevin Sing said the village board has not yet taken an official position on the pot-growing proposal.