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A $300 million data center will be the anchor and first tenant at the former Millinocket mill site, a major milestone for the redevelopment effort that looks to become a center for innovation and new forest industry products.
California-based Nautilus Data Technologies has signed a 99-year lease with site owner Our Katahdin. The center will be built on 13 acres of the 1,400-acre property, and engineering, permitting and development will begin immediately, officials said this weekend.
The first phase of the center is expected to open by late 2022, and when it's fully built will feature 84,000 square feet of data space with plans to expand to 60 megawatts of critical IT load.
The project was announced at an event Saturday on the lawn in front of the former Great Northern Paper mill administration building, one of the only structures left from the company that was the foundation of the town's economy. Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, attended.
Local officials characterized the announcement as a new beginning for a region that is trying to find its economic footing after the mill closed in 2008, followed by the GNP mill in nearby East Millinocket in 2013.
Since Our Katahdin bought the property in January 2018 for $1 from Cate Street Capital, the nonprofit has invested more than $8 million in infrastructure with the goal of luring a data center, as well as commercial and industrial manufacturers, forest product-based startups and other businesses that need the land and access to power and water the site provides.
“A data center is an excellent fit for our multi-use industrial site," Sean Dewitt, president of Our Katahdin, said Saturday. "The site is uniquely positioned to provide ready access to affordable 100% renewable power, gravity-fed water and resilient multi-point access to fiber broadband networks."
Nautilus Data Technologies has developed an environmentally innovative data center design — TRUE, for Total Resource Usage Effectiveness — that uses closed-water loop technology for cooling, trimming carbon emissions by 30% and cutting water reduction by 100%, the company said. Data centers use a lot of water too cool their processing systems, which generate intense heat.
The technology creates no pollution from refrigerants or chemicals, and doesn't harm terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, the company said.
The technology also enables the widespread availability of high-performance computing for computer-intensive applications, said Nautilus CEO Jim Connaughton.
Connaughton said Saturday, "We will create one of the most efficient, greenest and most socially responsible data centers in the world."
“It’s an exciting and transformational time to be in the data center business," he said.
The announcement is a major milestone in the three-plus years the site has been readied for development by Our Katahdin.
“Nautilus helps us to permanently transition to a new era of next-generation industry, including advanced wood products manufacturing," Mike Faloon, vice president of Our Katahdin said. "There is tremendous opportunity to leverage our local natural resources and proximity to millions of acres of forest land."
The infrastructure buildout at the former mill site was funded by a $5.36 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and included improvements to the onsite power grid, data transmission, sewer and water systems, roads and rail. The grant was awarded in 2018, but wasn’t accessible until 2019, when a tax lien on the former owners was resolved.
Infrastructure funding also includes a $1.34 million financing commitment from Maine Rural Development Authority and Maine Technology Institute, finalized in June 2020; $850,000 from the EPA; $216,000 from Maine Development Foundation; and $200,000 from Northern Borders Regional Commission.
Great Northern Paper began production in 1902 and at its peak was the world’s largest newsprint producer. The mill closed in 2008, and Our Katahdin was formed to find ways to boost and diversify the Katahdin Region's economy in 2014.
The three years it's taken to get a tenant for the site is largely because of the $1.5 million tax lien left by GNP West, the holding company formed by Cate Street. In February 2018, Our Katahdin announced cross-laminated timber manufacturer LignaTerra would build a production plant on the site, but that deal fell through as the tax lien resolution dragged on.
LignaTerra is now building a plant on Lincoln's former mill site, which is being redeveloped into the Maine Forest Products Innovation Park.
The lien was resolved in July 2019, with a $450,000 settlement with the Internal Revenue Service, leveraging the EDA grant and allowing work to begin on the site.
Town officials said Saturday they are thrilled Nautilus is coming to the Katahdin Region.
“We would like to thank all the individuals, organizations and businesses who have helped us over the last 13 years since the mill closed its doors — it has been a tremendous effort to prepare for this day,” said Richard Angotti, interim town manager.
"In the 1900s, Great Northern made paper used to store and convey information. Now we start a new chapter in Millinocket’s history, where on this same site that paper was made, we will once again store information."
Steve Golieb, chair of the Town Council, said, "I'm appreciative of Nautilus’s recognition of our impressive industrial site and the great people that make up this community. I'm looking forward to many years of steady, sustainable growth and warmly welcome Nautilus to town."