St. Paul-based Bix Produce Co. is planning to move its 400 employees to Little Canada in an expansion that would triple the size of its current food-processing facility.

The company, long a North End institution, would create 129 new jobs over the next four years and spend $15 million renovating a warehouse and clearance center at Interstates 35E and 694 if a deal to buy the property from Slumberland Furniture goes through.

A final decision from Bix on the move is expected before the end of the year, said Chris Heineman, Little Canada's city administrator.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to add a significant employment base to Little Canada," Heineman said. "I know they hope to retain all their existing jobs and bring them here. They are proposing an extraordinary investment in that facility."

Neither Bix nor Slumberland officials returned phone calls Thursday seeking comment.

Bix, which has been in business for more than 80 years, processes and distributes fruits, vegetables and herbs. It has outgrown its 68,000-square-foot facility just off Arlington Avenue and 35E and has its eyes on the 200,000-square-foot Slumberland site just 4 miles to the north, according to the company's application for a state grant.

The deal to relocate has been in the works for months and depends on financial incentives from both the state and city, Heineman said.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) awarded the company two grants in late October, one for creating jobs and another for making capital investments, totaling up to $350,000. Bix won the DEED grants because the company was looking at relocating out-of-state.

The DEED grants require Bix to complete the sale within the next four months and to make promised hires and complete renovations over a period of four years. The job creation grant amounts to just under $1,300 per new employee.

St. Paul and the company worked together for months to try to find a site in the city, said St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen, who represents the North End.

"This is a great company and we're sad to lose them, but at the end of the day they needed to grow and they were just landlocked in their current location," she said. She added that she's happy Bix plans to stay close enough to avoid disrupting its workforce.

Bix is seeking creation of a tax increment finance (TIF) district to save on local taxes during the first several years at the site as it makes its renovations.

Under the proposed terms of the TIF district, Bix would pay the same taxes that Slumberland is currently paying on the site for up to eight years while making millions of dollars worth of improvements.

Those improvements normally would raise the taxable value of the property somewhere between an estimated $1.5 million and $2 million a year, according to a review by the Ramsey County Assessor's Office. The company would be required to divert the thousands it would pay in increased taxes to upgrade the facility.

The tax break is modest considering that the improvements that would increase the property's value wouldn't be made without it, said Little Canada Mayor John Keis.

"They're making a massive upgrade to that building, and we know they need to upgrade their electrical systems quite a bit to handle all the power they will need," he said.

City officials fear that without a sale the facility might wind up empty. They said that Slumberland has already moved much of its warehouse operations from the site.

"This is a great chance where, instead of losing something like this, we have a company that will put in a sizable amount of money to retool it and get it up to speed," Keis said.

Greg Stanley • 612-673-4882