Jeff Foster has a penchant for all things Duluth and its harbor.
The local businessman’s latest venture is the purchase of the former Georgia-Pacific manufacturing plant on the Duluth Harbor.
Foster, known as the owner of the Sundew icebreaker ship and his namesake trucking company, hopes to turn the 19-acre site into a manufacturing, trucking and logistics center. The idea is to replicate what he did at another former Georgia-Pacific plant in Superior, Wis., that he’s owned since 2003.
The main difference — other than which side of the state line it’s on — is the size. His Superior trucking and warehousing facility is 140,000 square feet while this new site, located at 1220 W. Railroad St., has 350,000 square feet of usable space. Georgia-Pacific left behind much more equipment and infrastructure in the Duluth plant, where they produced composite wood used in car interiors, than at the Superior property.
“It worked so well at our Superior property that we maximized nearly all of the space, and we just looked at this as another spot to do the same thing,” Foster said. “However, this being where it is right on the rail and highway system, we feel there could be some additional manufacturing opportunities at the building.”
The sale closed on Nov. 12 for an undisclosed amount.
Jeff Foster Trucking will use about half of the space, which Foster believes will be attractive to new or growing companies seeking expansion.
More than 140 people lost their jobs when Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific shuttered its Duluth operation in 2012. Foster expects to eventually hire people to work at the facility, but the number will depend on “what ultimately fills the space, how busy it is and how labor intensive the work might be.”
The goal is to get people working there and cars in the parking lot as soon as possible. He plans to make immediate improvements to stabilize the space, but will save most of the major projects for spring.
Duluth has been enjoying a rebirth of activity, especially in its waterfront district. Foster and his wife are a part of a large investor group backing the construction of the $30-million Pier B Resort that’s scheduled to open in June. The project includes a 140-room hotel, restaurant, banquet hall, a dock and boat ramp.
“We have a passion for the water, the city of Duluth and the city of Superior,” Foster said.