2 high-tech farming companies moving into Hamilton’s city tower

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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80 Acres Farms is taking steps to broaden the reach of the state-of-the-art vertical farming operation it already employs in Cincinnati and Hamilton.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The high-tech agriculture company 80 Acres Farms isn’t only moving into Hamilton and making its national headquarters there, it’s also going to be renting space in Hamilton’s city tower at 345 High St., City Manager Joshua Smith announced during Wednesday’s city council meeting.

Also moving into the city building will be a company called Infinite Acres, which is a joint venture among 80 Acres; England-based Ocado, the world’s largest dedicated online supermarket; and Holland-based Priva, which for decades has been creating indoor climate-control systems like those used by 80 Acres.

80 Acres, which grows foods indoors using sophisticated lighting and watering systems, derives its name from its ability to grow 80 acres worth of food in a quarter of an acre space. The company started in Cincinnati.

Infinite Acres “is a totally separate company from 80 Acres,” Smith said.

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The companies hope to be moved in to Hamilton’s 7th floor, where city administrators now are located, by Thanksgiving, with renovations of that space starting around Labor Day.

The companies’ rental of that city space is positive news for city finances and its funding of another major development project: The Spooky Nook at Champion Mill gigantic indoor sports complex and convention center under construction at the former Champion Paper mill on North B Street, scheduled to open in 2021.

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In June, following up on agreements from October, city leaders approved issuing up to $9 million in taxable economic development revenue bonds to support the $144 million Spooky Nook project. That money is being borrowed against ownership of the city tower at 345 High St., which was “sold” to a city-controlled authority as a way to provide funding for Spooky Nook and other projects.

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In coming years, new rentals in the city tower will equal hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, Smith said.

Rather than paying down debt on the Spooky Nook project through the year 2049, Hamilton with those rental payments and possibly others can pay it by 2039 if not 2036 or 2035. Smith asked council in a future meeting to segregate the rent payments into an account that will send that money only toward paying down the community authority’s debt faster.

“80 Acres is a significant win,” Smith said. “To have the joint venture, Infinite Acres, that has partnered heavily with Kroger in the Cincinnati region, but is well-known globally — to have them headquartered in Hamilton, Ohio, a couple years ago was just unfathomable to me.”

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The proposed 80 Acres lease will be on the agenda of the next city council meeting, Smith said.

“That will also include the Infinite Acres component of that,” he said.

There will be plenty of space for city-government employees, even with the new businesses moving in, said Council Member Tim Naab, who leads council finance meetings.

“The city will generate about $175,000 annually in lease payments in 2020,” Smith told council. “In 2022, that number will move up to closer to $300,000, and in 2023 is when 80 Acres will be fully ramped up on their lease price, and the city will be receiving about $450,000 a year.”

A lease with ODW Logistics, already in the building and growing, lasts through 2030. The lease with 80 Acres and Infinite Acres “takes us through 2025, but it’s a 5+5 lease, and as of not, it’s their full intention to be here through 2030,” Smith said.

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In a plus for the downtown economy, the two agriculture companies and ODW Logistics between them will have 110 people working in the city tower, Smith said: “I can tell you, just in the times that 80 Acres has brought their full crew to town, which has been more frequently, just anecdotally, speaking with High Street Cafe and others, they certainly know it when they’re in town, because they’re even busier than usual.”

Another boost would be for Hamilton’s utilities, which lost Champion Paper and other large industrial customers in recent decades that helped keep household utility rates lower, Jim Logan, who oversees city utilities, said when 80 Acres fully builds out its Hamilton agriculture facilities near downtown and in a Hamilton industrial park, “They’ll be our number-one customer in electric.”

Smith said the city’s kilowatt-hour tax “is a very significant revenue stream in our general fund.”

The income tax from the companies’ high-paying jobs also will help city finances, Smith said.

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Eric Schwartzberg contributed reporting.

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