CAMBRIDGE — U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) visited The Packing House on July 16, touring the old Phillips Packing House structure with a group of local officials, business owners and educators. Sen. Van Hollen has made a request to the federal Department of Agriculture for $1.4 million to support the project.
“It’s going to transform Cambridge and the whole area,” the senator said. “It’s going to be a unique place along the whole East Coast.”
Cross Street Partners, in partnership with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), is renovating the historic Phillips Packing Company, Factory F, now known as The Packing House. The $22,000,000, 60,000 square foot building is designed to support and grow regional economic opportunities connected to agriculture, aquaculture, environmental technologies, and tourism.
“The Packing House will house a synergistic mix of tech and creative entrepreneurs, food production and food related retail/eateries as well as a two-story, light-filled open atrium space for continuous public programs and private events,” a statement on the company’s website says.
“This is why we’re asking for some federal funds for this,” Sen. Van Hollen said. The senator is a member of the Appropriations Committee, and has asked for the maximum amount possible, he said.
“The building features an open floor plan, soaring ceilings, and the opportunity to retain many historic architectural features that will enhance the space with an authentic, Eastern Shore manufacturing aesthetic,” the website says. “Adjacent to the Phillips Building is the future site of Cannery Park, a new ‘central park’ for the City of Cambridge that will incorporate active and passive spaces for recreation. The Packing House will serve as a connection between the growing downtown revitalization in Cambridge and the nearby highway route taking people to the Maryland and Virginia beaches. The commercialization, research, production, and active retail uses will support local employment and inform nutrition and public health programming on the Eastern Shore.”
The building itself, with its iconic smokestacks featuring the letters “PPC”, is the last remaining factory from the Phillips Company’s empire of vegetable and food packing businesses, which once employed thousands of people in Cambridge. The company closed in the 1960s. Though some businesses were located there over the years, the building deteriorated over the years.
Education and business
Among the many tenants planning to move in will be students and instructors from Chesapeake College’s culinary program. In groups of about 30, classes will move through a fully equipped kitchen in the building during six-week courses, Amanda Kidd told Sen. Van Hollen.
Consultants are being brought in, with plans for big names from the restaurant world. “We’re going to do it right,” Ms. Kidd said.
While food is being put on the plate in one part of the building, it will be created in another — Johnny Shockley of the Hoopers Island Oyster Company spoke of his firm’s plans to have a production facility in operation onsite, with large windows in exterior and interior walls, so the public can witness the work his hatchery carries out.
Mr. Shockley said his company produces oysters not only for seafood lovers, but also to create more of the filter feeders to help clean the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries — and along the way, to create jobs in the industry, providing “an economic solution to an environmental issue,” Mr. Shockley said.
With the big windows providing an up-close view to the general public, “They will be able to see the whole operation,” Sen. Van Hollen said.
Plans for the fall
A soft opening, with some areas available to the public, could occur in the next few months. Margaret Norfleet-Neff, who with Bill Struever is leading the project for Cross Street Partners, said some operations could be in business by October.
“We really want to be active in the winter,” Ms. Norfleet-Neff said. “We feel fortunate to be in Cambridge working on a project like this.”