Menasha may sell former power plant

Menasha's River Street Power Plant is seen, Feb. 28, 2014. (WLUK/Alex Ronallo)
Menasha's River Street Power Plant is seen, Feb. 28, 2014. (WLUK/Alex Ronallo)

MENASHA - A vacant power plant in Menasha may soon have new life.

The city-owned plant provided power to residents for more than 50 years until it became a steam plant 10 years ago, but that operation had cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. So, the city shut it down five years ago.

The building's been vacant since - but now the city says it has a possible buyer.

Seventy thousand dollars. That's how much Menasha pays each year to keep up the River Street Power Plant.

Mayor Don Merkes told FOX 11 the building has become a liability since the ill-fated attempt to make it functional in 2004.

"An industrial steam facility and that was a venture that didn't work well and we ended up shutting that facility down," Merkes explained.

But now a six-year-old Port Edwards company, Simply Incredible Foods, is interested in moving into the old plant.

The Fox Cities Regional Partnership found such a move could bring about 80 new jobs to Menasha.

"You're talking about a $51 million annual impact on the local economy," explained partnership executive vice president Larry Burkhardt.

Simply Incredible Foods makes a patented sweet frozen cranberry and cranberry juice.

"We extract the acid and then we infuse it with a flavor or a juice," explained company CEO Christine Sohns.

Area officials told us that's the kind of company needed locally: one that sustains jobs and makes a unique product.

"It's certainly something we wanna be known for in the Fox Cities, that innovation," said Burkhardt.

The city and company still need to negotiate a price.

"It's still tentative, you know? We really love the location, love the building, but we still have a lot of work to do on our due diligence," said Sohns.

There is equipment and potentially cancer causing asbestos in the plant that need to go. That alone could cost more than half a million dollars.

Merkes told us the goal is for the city to come out even on the deal.

"Really what we need to talk about is how we can balance the cost of taking that old equipment out to reuse the building," the mayor explained, conversations that are expected to come in the next few weeks.

If the deal is reached, Simply Incredible Foods believes it cold have the plant operating within six months.

Simply Incredible Foods is also working with Aeris-Energy, a company that creates renewable energy from waste, to negotiate the sale of the plant with Menasha.