A Hughesville firm is hoping to win a bid to operate a large-scale agricultural center that would serve Southern Maryland as well as Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.

Late last week, Hughesville Properties LLC submitted its bid in the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission’s competition for funds to build a regional agricultural center, proposing to convert a large tobacco warehouse located along Old Leonardtown Road into a meat processing and retail facility.

The agricultural center is intended to offer meat cutting and wrapping services as well as what is called “value-added processing” — turning meat into sausage, jerky, bacon and charcuterie. It is intended to complement the operations of the new Amish-operated slaughterhouse in Mechanicsville that is currently seeking USDA certification.

In addition to meat processing, SMADC envisions the regional agricultural center as a place for farmers to offer workshops and classes and to sell and store their products.

The winning bidder will be awarded up to $1 million to support the construction of a new facility or the overhaul of an existing structure to meet SMADC’s requirements.

Last week, the St. Mary’s County’s economic development department submitted its own bid for the center, proposing two sites in Charlotte Hall.

Les Gooding of Hughesville Properties told the Maryland Independent that he hoped that the barn’s central location and its ties to the history of agriculture in the region will help give his firm’s bid an advantage.

“These barns … were certainly a significant part of the tobacco trade,” Gooding said, noting that SMADC was created with the goal of helping tobacco growers transition to alternate crops and livestock. “If [SMADC is] thinking about [helping] those same farmers, maybe we can get things right back to where it was before.”

Another advantage of the tobacco barn, Gooding said, is the availability of loading bays for large trucks. Originally designed to handle bulk tobacco shipments, the bays could be readily adapted for the movement of meat in and out of the processing facility, according to Gooding.

Gooding emphasized that the antique dealers who currently rent space in the tobacco barn would not be displaced should his firm be awarded the agricultural center project.

“If we happen to be awarded this opportunity, then it would justify us spending more money on the space so that we can relocate the vendors,” Gooding said. “Then we could spend some bucks and put the non-food vendors in a nearby space or the building next door.”

“They would benefit, too, because more people would be coming to the space,” Gooding pointed out, noting that several of the vendors have been there for 20 and even 30 years.

Charles County’s planning and economic development departments both provided technical assistance to Gooding’s firm during the drafting of the application.

County preservation planner Cathy Thompson explained that the “adaptive reuse” of existing historic structures is part of the county’s plan for the Hughesville Village redevelopment program. She said the barn’s modern concrete-block walls offer an advantage over older structures.

“That certainly lends itself to successful adaptive reuse without some of the challenges of other locations in Hughesville,” Thompson said.

The RFP addresses the need for utility upgrades that are being planned for Hughesville. Gooding said that the agricultural center is a permitted use in Hughesville’s “gateway” zone.

Martin Proulx, Charles County’s agricultural business development manager, said that a regional agricultural center will help agricultural businesses and small farmers throughout Southern Maryland by opening up new avenues for their products to reach consumers and retailers.

“Our role [in the grant application] was mostly supportive,” Proulx said. “We helped the applicant better understand SMADC’s grant requirements. Through our relationship with SMADC, we had familiarity with what they expect and what their vision is for this project.”

The economic development department also provided a letter of support for the Hughesville tobacco barn site for Gooding to include in his application.

Proulx said that Hughesville’s proximity to the Mechanicsville slaughterhouse made the location the most viable option in Charles County.

“Proximity was a very important [consideration],” Proulx said. “Geographically, you can’t get much closer to Mechanicsville in Charles County than Hughesville.”

The SMADC said a committee will be meeting on Thursday, April 11, to review the bids. “Fingers crossed that the building … will be perfectly suited to the need we have,” Gooding said.

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