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Previously on the market, WestRock officials now say they want to sell the facility to a developer who will embrace the city's mixed use plan

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - The newsprint mill in Newberg was shuttered for good in January 2016, about five months after it was purchased by paper-making giant WestRock.

After more than a year of mulling their options, the owners of the defunct mill property in Newberg have renewed their plans to sell the site.

This news comes months after the city formed a subcommittee essentially asking the Atlanta-based company to give up the vacant WestRock property.

The mill has been closed since January 2016, about five months after the Atlanta-based company purchased it in a deal that included a second mill. The company initially said it would make improvements to the facility to make it more viable, but then suddenly shuttered the facility, first laying off its more than 200 workers than firing them outright a few months later.

City officials have recently been meeting with WestRock officials about the future of the mill, although the Newberg City Council had already begun moving forward with a plan to update the zoning of the site to allow additional uses. WestRock officials had said they wanted to leave the site alone.

This is not the first time the mill site has been for sale. It was listed with Colliers International soon after its closure and remained there until May 2018. The company sought an $8.25 million contract with the caveat that the paper-making machinery inside be destroyed.

The company received at least three sales offers for the facility, including from an Idaho company that wanted to demolish the mill for the scrap metal but later withdrew its offer. Two other paper companies made unsuccessful offers to purchase the plant for undisclosed prices as well.

Newberg Community Development Director Doug Rux said that in May 2018 "WestRock stepped back and were re-evaluating their options." On Monday, the company announced it was putting the mill site back on the market.

John Pensec, director of corporate communications for the company, said in a conference call the paper-making giant had been considering its options for the property and had determined the best course was to try to sell the property again.

"We've been encouraged by the interest in the property and think there's a great opportunity for someone to redevelop it," Pensec said.

In a press release, WestRock Senior Vice President and Treasurer John Stakel said after discussions with the city, they believe selling it for a possible mixed-use development will provide the best value for WestRock and Newberg.

"(We) believe there is a great opportunity for a buyer to completely redevelop the property in line with the city's proposed riverfront master plan and for the long-term benefit of local residents," Stakel said. "We have been fortunate that over the last several months, we have been able to repurpose some of the paper-making equipment and components at our Newberg site for use in several of our other facilities."

Newberg Mayor Rick Rogers said this was a "tremendously exciting opportunity for the city" and that the city was deficient in both industrial and commercial land and selling the mill site was an opportunity to address that.

"We applaud WestRock's collaboration and partnership in the Riverfront Master Plan process and willingness to look at different options for the site, including possibly donating a small portion of the site, Rogers Landing, for public use," the mayor said in a release. "We look forward to working with WestRock and potential buyers as WestRock markets the property. The redevelopment of this important site will be key to the economic revitalization of the riverfront and Newberg."

Pensec said the company hopes to sell the property "fairly quick," but that there wasn't a buyer lined up as of yet.

"When people see the property they will realize there's a lot of opportunity with this property," he said, adding that the sale of the mill will also be a benefit to the residents of Newberg.

Both Pensec and Rux characterized the company's relationship with the city as a partnership.

"It's one we value," Pensec said. "We think it's the right opportunity for us and for the city and we think there's a lot of value in redeveloping that."

Rux said this was important to the city's ongoing effort to finalize its riverfront master plan, which is slated for a September completion date.

WestRock had previously indicated they wanted to keep the mill zoned for industrial uses, with little or no public access on the property. The citizens' advisory committee sought to allow mixed use developments at the mill.

Over the winter, Rogers sent letters to WestRock regarding the property, although most went unanswered.

WestRock officials said last summer they would be open to selling the mill to another mill operator rather than demolishing the equipment. However, two potential buyers were reportedly given the cold shoulder. Some detractors claimed WestRock was simply biding its time while its bid to purchase Keystone Paper and Packing Co. was reviewed. The AWPPW submitted a complaint in the spring to the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, arguing that WestRock's then-pending sale of the Newberg mill to a scrapper indicated it wanted to reduce competition.

The move led to several of Oregon's congressional delegation to pen a letter expressing concerns over the mill and WestRock's practices.


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