U-Haul might seem like an unlikely buyer for the former Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Buffalo.
But Phoenix-based U-Haul actually has a habit of bringing vacant buildings back to life.
In Detroit, U-Haul converted a former National Biscuit Co. building into a location for moving and self-storage services. A San Francisco-area location was once a Planters Peanuts factory. In Memphis, Tenn., the company acquired a 104-year-old former factory that had sat vacant for 15 years.
Add the former Tyson plant on Perry Street, which closed at the end of 2014, to the list. U-Haul opened there last month with services like truck and van rentals, and a temporary showroom offering moving supplies and accessories. As the conversion continues, U-Haul plans to add as many as 1,300 individual climate-controlled storage units at the site.
"It's a reuse of a building, and sustainability is important to us, so we'll keep it there and refurbish it, instead of tearing it down and starting over," said Todd Schnitzer, president of U-Haul Co. of Western New York., which oversees 19 company-owned and operated facilities in the Buffalo and Rochester areas.
When Tyson's Buffalo plant closed, the decision eliminated 287 jobs and left a large property without a purpose. Tyson cited factors including the building's financial performance and its distance from the company's raw materials supply base in the Midwest. It was formerly a Russer Foods plant, until Tyson bought Russer's parent company in 2001.
A different idea to reuse the plant came and went in 2015. One of the applicants for a license to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana proposed using the plant as a growing facility, but New York State did not approve that group for a license.
The plant consists of about 165,000 square feet on 10 acres, alongside the Niagara Thruway. Tyson first listed the property for sale for $4.8 million, but the purchase price was $1.5 million, according to county records. The property was assessed at $3 million.
Caroline Ahn, a spokeswoman for Arkansas-based Tyson, said the company was "pleased to have found a buyer" for the plant but did not comment on terms of the deal.
Schnitzer said the property needs a lot of work, but he credited Tyson with maintaining it after the shutdown.
U-Haul doesn't have a timetable for adding the storage units, he said. "We're kind of taking our time to make sure we do it right." When the conversion is finished, the U-Haul facility might have 20 to 25 employees.
Some former Tyson plant employees have dropped in, either as U-Haul customers or just to look around and glimpse their old lockers. U-Haul even hired a former plant employee to handle facility maintenance.
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