2001 Pirelli

A large medical cannabis facility could soon fill the vacant space inside the former Pirelli tire plant in Kings Industrial Park south of Houston Avenue.

HANFORD – A company proposing to open a large medical cannabis growing/processing business in Hanford is no longer interested.

Community development director Darlene Mata told the Sentinel Friday that she had heard the news from City Manager Darrel Pyle on Friday morning that Oakland-based Purple Heart Patient Center was pulling out of its arrangement to potentially bring the business to Hanford.

Pyle couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Niccolo De Luca, a spokesman for Purple Heart, confirmed Friday that the Oakland-based company has moved on and is looking elsewhere.

"We really fell in love with the city of Hanford," De Luca said. "We're extremely disappointed that this project is not moving forward [there]. We remain committed to bringing high-paying jobs and revenue to the Central Valley."

De Luca said three other cities have expressed interest in Purple Heart's proposal. He didn't identify the cities or where they are located.

In their initial proposal to the Hanford City Council in September last year, Purple Heart officials said that the business, at full buildout, would bring 1,115 full-time jobs to Hanford and generate $14 million in annual revenue.

The proposal called for filling most of the 1 million square-foot former Pirelli Tire plant in Kings Industrial Park with cannabis growing and processing operations. Purple Heart also wanted to build 871,000 square feet of outdoor greenhouse grow space at the site.

Since Pirelli left in 2001, the cavernous Hanford building has never been filled, though some businesses have temporarily rented floor space.

The City Council decided in November 2016 to move forward with the Purple Heart idea, but told city staff to go slowly and make sure key concerns such as security and policing were fully addressed.

Council members expressed skepticism about Purple Heart's job and revenue claims. Local law enforcement officials raised security and crime questions.

In order to make it possible for Purple Heart to come, the council had to give Mata the OK to begin crafting a new zoning ordinance that would allow for commercial medical marijuana grows.

Existing ordinances prohibit commercial pot cultivation and sales in the city.

In November, council members Justin Mendes, Francisco Ramirez and David Ayers gave Mata the green light to start putting together a draft ordinance that would allow for commercial medical cannabis cultivation in the city's heavy industrial zone.

Council members also began entertaining the idea of putting a ballot measure in front of Hanford voters asking them to approve a square-footage tax on Purple Heart.

The measure would be a general tax proposal the proceeds from which could be spent on any needs the council deemed appropriate.

The earliest the measure could go on the ballot is November 2018.

So, last month, at its Feb. 7 meeting, the council directed Pyle to begin that process.

A the same meeting, the council decided to postpone until after the November 2018 election any decision about whether to issue Purple Heart a conditional use permit to operate.

Council members noted that a majority of Kings County voters rejected Proposition 64, the statewide recreational pot measure that passed statewide and took effect in November 2016. Council members said they wanted to let voters decide on a marijuana tax before proceeding.

Ultimately, waiting until November 2018 to know whether or not they could come to Hanford was unacceptable to Purple Heart officials, according to De Luca.

"With all the uncertainties, and with the November 2018 date, and due to some internal dates on the real estate purchase, we decided not to move forward," he said.

De Luca said Purple Heart had already been making escrow payments toward the purchase of the Hanford site, which is owned by a private party.

City Council members offered few regrets about the demise of Purple Heart's proposal.

"Hey, they have to make their business decisions," Mendes said.

Mendes said the council's cautious, conservative approach was justified by concerns raised by Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever.

"The police chief has said that there are compliance issues everywhere you look in the industry," Mendes said.

"[Purple Heart] has to make a decision based on what fits it needs," Sorensen said. "I think that the city has to do what the city has to do. This is a new world that Hanford hasn't been a part of. I think we need to try to be diligent and responsible."

Ramirez, Ayers and new Councilman Martin Devine couldn't be immediately reached Friday for comment.

Mendes and Sorensen said the city should move forward with crafting the new ordinance. They cited other cannabis-related businesses expressing interest in Hanford.

"I think that's something the city would probably benefit from, to get that [ordinance] in order," Sorensen said. "That's a conversation we need to have."

Mendes thinks other medical marijuana-related businesses will be interested in locating in the former Pirelli building.

"I think as a small business person, [Purple Heart owner Keith Stephenson] needed to have more guarantees than the city can give at this time," said John Lehn, president of Kings County Economic Development Corp. "He needs to find a city where he can get that assurance."

Lehn said it's not a "catastrophic loss" for Hanford because he expects other businesses to come calling.

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The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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