3 Clients, 3 Sets of Needs — ONE Solution
Drew Lucas calls it a unique juggle.
Converting the property that housed a Triad brewery for 37 years into a multimillion dollar pet food company has allowed the Senior Project Manager from ONE Environmental Group to wear various hats for multiple clients.
His success speaks to one of the core values of ONE — relationships matter.
“Our goal is to best support our clients,” he said. “I’m on my third new set of relationships with this project, and after communicating with the client, I learn what they need and then make it happen.”
Nestlé Purina Petcare will open a $450 million, 1.3-million square-foot cat and dog food factory in Eden, North Carolina, next year, which will bring hundreds of jobs and the largest capital investment to Rockingham County in its history.
ONE has been instrumental in every facet of the project. Lucas and former tenant MillerCoors enjoyed a lasting professional relationship that started long before the brewery closed the plant in 2016.
“I have been involved with MillerCoors as a contractor/consultant at multiple sites for years and years and years,” Lucas said. “When they decided to shut down the Eden, North Carolina, brewery, ONE Environmental won the contract agreement to complete the environmental closure.”
Lucas spearheaded the year-long undertaking for ONE in consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The task list included cleaning out the tanks, wastewater plant lagoons, the sewer systems and pipelines. Abandoned wells had to be closed, grouted and capped in compliance within regulatory guidelines. The mega operation called for bringing in vacuum trucks, dredges and presses and even draining a lake that had turned into a liability.
“We restored the lake to its original stream bed from back before they ever dammed it up,” Lucas said. “We even had to hire a wildlife biologist to protect and relocate the fish.”
The fish were relocated to their natural habitat.
“It looks great now and it’s restored and operating as it should,” Lucas said. “MillerCoors is happy, the state’s happy and the new owners are happy.”
Once environmental cleanup concluded, ONEl transitioned into a new role — what Lucas calls “maintenance phase.” Stormwater and air permits had to be maintained just as if the facility was still operational.
Of course, the brewery that previously produced nine million barrels a year of beer had to be gutted, a mammoth process that involved dozens of other breweries flying in to tag the equipment they wanted.
“We had 20,000 line items of equipment and materials to ship out of this mega brewery,” Lucas said. “That took almost a year.”
Lucas then partnered with MillerCoors to market the facility while continuing the property management phase. Even the smallest details — making sure the grass was regularly cut — fell under his supervision.
Greensboro-based D.H. Griffin, a demolition and site development company, bought the property and kept ONE aboard as both an environmental consultant and property manager. Multiple buyers expressed interest and sent commercial real estate brokers to Eden to tour the facility.
“From electric cars to mattresses to German food — I met all types of people from companies that wanted to expand,” Lucas said.
Then COVID-19 hit. A reluctance to travel brought progress to a halt until Lucas received a call that an anonymous company was expressing interest.
Lucas got creative in an effort to showcase the property’s features. In preparation for a virtual tour with the potential buyer, he hired a buddy of his who had been laid off due to the pandemic. His friend owned a drone.
Having the drone fly over the 1,600 acre property meant the buyer could get a full overview and ask questions along the way. Lucas narrated the two-hour virtual tour, and almost as soon as it was over, the company asked to see the site in person.
That started a series of visits, all following COVID-safe protocols, from St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. Its engineers regularly flew out on Wednesday mornings and returned that same evening.
“We were able to support our client, D.H. Griffin, and give them everything they needed along the way,” Lucas said.
On Sept. 30, 2020, Purina purchased the property.
“My client was ecstatic.,” Lucas said. “I was ecstatic, thrilled, especially to be able to help a client in my hometown. When the brewery closed, that was 550 jobs overnight gone and probably another 500 with it with the ancillary businesses also impacted.”
Purina plans to initially hire 300 employees and the company’s capital improvement plan calls for further expansion in Eden.
Now Lucas works with Purina supporting its general contractor to secure all the proper permits for construction. He is also continuing ONE’s property maintenance role.
“The Purina folks have already moved in a dozen people, so we have this live active building with people coming to work and we have this $450 million construction going on,” Lucas said.
The facility, deemed “a game-changer” for the local economy by government officials, will be operational in 2022 and fully staffed by 2024.