Developer approved to turn Suffolk Peanut Company plant into apartments


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Love peanuts so much you could live at a former peanut processing plant? A developer has been cleared to make that a reality.

Wednesday night, Suffolk City Council voted 8-0 to OK a plan to build 225 apartments inside the buildings of the former Suffolk Peanut Company. The 10-acre site at 273 South Saratoga Street has been abandoned for years, but was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

City planners say the facility is the largest and most intact historic peanut processing plant in the state.

“It’s a defining feature of south Suffolk, and hopefully when it is redeveloped it will be a better defining feature of south Suffolk,” said Edwin Gaskin, of Echelon Resources, Inc., the Richmond based company doing the project.

The company that specializes in using historic tax credits to redevelop properties bought the Suffolk site in 2017 for $225,000, according to property records. Gaskin told council members he estimates $30 million of investment will eventually bring a mixed-use town center complex to the property aptly named “Peanut Crossing.”

“That needs to start somewhere,” Gaskin said, explaining that plans are to start small with the development of 50-70 units in the estimated $8 million first phase.

Under the terms of the deal approved by the city is that 80 percent of the apartments have to be 1-bedroom loft style. This is being done to help attract tenants without children, to avoid overcrowding neighboring schools, according to Gaskin.

While floor plans are not yet ready, the Peanut Crossing website lists 1-bedroom apartments with a rental rate starting at $850/month, with 2-bedrooms at $1,010/month.

Rent will include basic high-speed Internet, water/sewer, and trash service. Units will be equipped with a refrigerator, stove, oven, dishwasher, garbage disposal, washer and dryer.

The dog friendly property will be gated with security cameras.

“The first residents are going to really have to believe in this place,” Gaskin cautioned, noting that while the complex is connects downtown, the often noisy Norfolk Southern mainline will be a big part of everyday life.

“We hope to make this site relevant to future generations, Gaskin told council. “It’s had an important part in history, but currently it’s derelict.”

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Park Service will have to sign off on changes made to the buildings as the use of both federal and Virginia historic rehabilitation tax credits will be used to offset costs.

The earliest building on site dates to 1903 when the Suffolk Peanut Company began its operations there. It was sold in 1968, but continued to operate as Goldkist Peanut.

“When I was growing up in the late 60s, we had probably 22 peanut producers in town, you could smell peanuts everywhere you went and I grew up in the downtown area, so I really knew the odor well,” said Faye Beale, owner of the Planters Peanut Center in downtown Suffolk.

Often dubbed “The Peanut Capital of the World,” today Suffolk is only home to one processing plant, owned by Birdsong Peanuts.

“It’s the industry that built us,” Beale said. “We have a lot of people that have moved into this area that really don’t know.”

With a peanut-shaped Suffolk Peanut Company sign hanging in her shop, she is quite pleased to hear the peanut will play such a big role in the redevelopment.

“Because I think the more we leave behind for a future generation is very important.”

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