Driving north on Wilmington Street toward the downtown Raleigh skyline punctuated by Red Hat’s crimson banner and the PNC tower, if you look left after ducking under the I-40 overpass, you’ll see a small lot populated by concrete trucks and piles of stone and dirt. Behind that, a massive arched tent rests atop a small hill.
The area was dubbed an “industrial wasteland,” by Raleigh mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, but to Chip Haskell, it’s home to the business he’s invested everything in.
Haskell and his business partner, Robert Boyd Andrews, have leased the tract of land at 201 Walker Street since 2016 for their grease processing facility, Grease Outlet. Essentially, they take the wastewater from restaurants and other businesses filled with food waste and brown grease and filter it so it can be more easily processed by the city’s water system. Last year, they processed about 5,500 tons of grease and food waste. The leftover materials are converted into compost.
Haskell and Andrews invested $1.5 million of their own money to start the business, and believe that, according to their lease agreement, they are entitled to remain operating at that site until 2031.
But last year, John Kane and Stephen Malik purchased the lot and the surrounding 140 acres for $38 million to construct a new mixed-use commercial, residential, and athletic complex. Almost immediately, Haskell says his new landlords tried to renegotiate the lease so that it would expire by 2023. Then they sent him a letter informing him the lease was invalid, and that he’d have to vacate the property by the end of April.
“There are plans on being a soccer field right on top of our plant,” Haskell told the INDY. “That’s the drawing I have seen.”
On Tuesday, Haskell filed a lawsuit against Kane and Malik to affirm the validity of the lease and his company’s legal right to property. All he wants is to keep operating his business through the end of the lease. Moving the facility isn’t feasible, Haskell says, because much of the equipment is underground infrastructure.
Even if he did move, Haskell says, “I doubt it would cost us less” than his initial investment in the site, which he’s yet to recoup. Decommissioning the facility in the next four weeks would be “crushing” for the business, he says.
“We would have lost a significant amount of our capital investment and our time and resources,” Haskell says. “And there would be people [who] would be out of a job too.”
The developers never told Haskell why they believe the lease is invalid, he says.
Kane Realty managing director Bonner Gaylord, who previously served on the city council with Baldwin, told the INDY, “while we aren’t at liberty to comment on the specifics of this lawsuit, we remain focused on our work to ensure a clean site for the benefit of the community and environment.”
Meanwhile, the Raleigh City Council is vetting a potential tax break system that could save the development millions in taxes for the project. The project has been vehemently criticized by some groups, including the North Carolina Justice Center, which claimed the potential use of taxpayer money could accelerate gentrification and commit “public dollars to the pockets of developers that otherwise could be driven back into community benefits and public institutions.”
Haskell didn’t want to comment specifically on the merits of the redevelopment project.
“I’m just a small business owner that wants to continue running my business,” Haskell says. “I planned this business before Downtown South happened.”
Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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