By Danielle Ray, Senior Reporter
Red Cardinal, doing business as RC Retail Princeton, obtained a site plan approval subject to conditions that they were agreeable to at the June 16 Planning Board meeting, putting the company one step closer to setting up a marijuana dispensary in Mechanics Hall on Route 140.
RC purchased the building for $5,000 and is poised to spend more than $435,000 on renovations to transform the building into a marijuana retail shop that will offer both recreational and medicinal products, with the second floor to be used as a community space during off hours according to a proposal from RC.
The site plan approval followed the Selectboard voting unanimously on June 9 to proceed with the Mechanics Hall proposal submitted by RC contingent on a mutually satisfactory Land Development Agreement and Host Community Agreement, and town voters authorizing the sale of Mechanics Hall at the May 2018 town meeting.
The business endeavor will breathe new life into the historic building, which has been vacant for years. Selectboard member Richard Bisk said he took over from Chair Karen Cruise in May as the lead in the project.
“My interest in the fate of Mechanics Hall goes back to my first year on the Selectboard in 2017,” Bisk said. “I quickly learned about the dismal state of many of our town buildings. We closed the Princeton Center due to its condition. Bagg Hall needed substantial repair, and our public safety building should have been replaced years ago.”
Bisk said The Friends of Mechanics Hall came to the Selectboard years back with ideas for restoring the run-down hall.
“Clearly, we could not afford to,” he said. “I asked if the Friends group wanted to buy it for $1. They did not. My reaction was to ask the voters at town meeting to decide on the next steps.”
After voters gave permission to sell the building, Bisk said they published a Request for Proposals (RFP).
“We received a single proposal whose length was one short paragraph and did not include much of the information we had requested,” he said. “Our efforts to obtain adequate information from the proposer were not successful, so we republished the RFP. This time we again received a single proposal, from Red Cardinal.”
Bisk said the proposal was 81 pages long and “contained the detail we required,” so they began negotiations. He attended the June 16 meeting “as an observer” and former Planning Board member.
“The process went fairly smoothly with questions about parking and screening for neighbors,” he said. “It was similar to site plan reviews for other businesses.”
Bisk said the collaboration is a win-win for the town and RC.
“A decaying building that is currently an eyesore will be restored,” Bisk said. “While the sale price is only $5,000, Red Cardinal estimates that their sales will generate $150,000 in annual excise related to the costs imposed upon the town by the operation of the marijuana establishment.”
While the majority of town residents appear to support the dispensary plan, there are those who have been vocal about their opposition to town officials and on social media.
“A recreational marijuana establishment is legal in Princeton because our residents voted in favor of the statewide referendum,” Bisk reminds residents. “It is clear to me that controls on the purchase of marijuana are more than stringent than on the purchase of alcohol. An eyesore will be restored, and the town will benefit financially.”
Red Cardinal Community Liaison Stan Rosenberg is part of the team that keeps in touch with the community as the project develops. He said they have a Host Community Agreement (HCA) in place in Amherst, where they await the final approval of the Cannabis Control Commission “to begin serving the public beginning this summer,” and have a HCA and provisional license to operate a dispensary in Westfield as well.
“We saw a terrific opportunity to preserve and redevelop a beautiful, treasured building as part of an economic development project,” Rosenberg said of the Mechanics Hall project. “A number of us on the Red Cardinal team love to work on projects that give rise to both social and economic benefit. We also felt that the town would be business friendly, which we have found to be the case.”
Rosenberg said RC strives to preserve some of the historical aspects of Mechanics Hall when it comes to designing the plan and layout for the dispensary.
“We are working with experienced professionals to ensure that we create a comfortable environment for our customers while meeting all state and local requirements, and are working with experienced architects including a firm that researched this building for local residents interested in preserving it for the future,” he said. “We have committed in our HCA to pay close attention to honoring the long and treasured history of the building, with special attention to the building’s facade.”
Rosenberg said RC is sensitive to the town residents who are hesitant to have a marijuana dispensary in town and are committed to gaining their trust as part of a “tightly state-regulated industry.”
“We will meet the letter and spirit of the state’s stringent requirements, and we will also continue to work with the town to meet its requirements,” he said. “We are also working closely with the Princeton town government to meet all local legal and regulatory requirements designed to protect public health and safety. We not only want to be seen as a successful local business, but also as an important part of the Princeton community and good neighbors.”
By Danielle Ray, Senior Reporter