Recyclers have big plans for new year
© St. Petersburg Times
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Louise Graham Regeneration Center, a recycling business that employs mentally disabled workers along with mainstream laborers, has a history of financial hardship.
Last spring, it needed cash; as the year draws to a close, it still does.
Frank Leeds III, its executive director, has an expansion plan that even he acknowledges is ambitious.
He has made an offer on the R.R. Donnelley & Sons building on 18th Avenue S, former site of a telephone directory printing plant with 10 times the space than the center's current headquarters on Third Avenue S.
Leeds wants the additional room to start nursery and woodworking operations, taking discarded plants and scrap lumber from Home Depot, renourishing the flora and using the wood to build sawhorses. The metal parts used to complete the structures would be supplied by another firm that hires disabled workers.
Through Able Brand, a new company that is working with Home Depot headquarters in Atlanta, the plants and the sawhorses would be resold to the home improvement warehouse.
The idea is "very aggressive and extremely bold," Leeds said, "but it's a smart plan.
"It would pay off all our debts, it would make us landlords, it would put us into the building, and it would make us self-sufficient. And it would increase our size."
Expanding the center is advantageous for several reasons, he said, creating jobs and establishing several new departments: transportation, human resources and fundraising.
A team of new volunteers joined the center's board earlier this year but left after disagreeing with some of Leeds' goals.
The fear was that attempts to grow the center to such a substantial extent would put the entire organization at risk.
Another potential buyer for the Donnelley building has a contract on the property, but Leeds said he understands the goal is to "turn around and sell it again.
"I haven't given up on it."
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