Rhinegeist owners one step closer to turning Camp Washington site into medical pot venture

Former Sara Lee/Kahn's site in Spring Grove
Posted at 8:17 AM, Jun 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 08:25:36-04

CINCINNATI -- A plan by Rhinegeist's owners to get in on Ohio's budding medical marijuana industry is one step closer to reality as Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune tells WCPO they'll sign off on a proposal to transform a long-vacant Camp Washington site into a cultivation facility and dispensary.

Rhinegeist co-founders Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding have a contract to purchase the nearly 18-acre former Sara Lee/Kahn’s manufacturing site on Spring Grove Avenue.

That’s where the entrepreneurs want to launch a new venture, separate from Rhinegeist: An up to 50,000-square-foot medical marijuana growing operation and dispensary that, within the first few years, could create more than 100 jobs, said Bob Bonder, president of Rhinegeist.

But the team still has big hurdles to overcome. They needed that key sign-off from Hamilton County commissioners by June 9. They must also be among the few in Ohio to apply and be awarded licenses to grow and sell the newly legal drug. 

The state is accepting applications starting this month for those looking to be among the first to grow medical marijuana legally in Ohio. Up to 24 licenses for large and small growers are expected to be awarded by the end of the year.

RELATED: Meet some of the people who want to grow Ohio's medical pot

“We’ve been exploring this as a potential opportunity since Ohio legalized medical marijuana” last year, Bonder told WCPO. “For us to be in the early stages of a new industry like this – considering the economic impact it can have and the impact it can make in health care – it’s exciting.”

Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding

The venture would operate separately from the duo’s successful craft beer brewing business they launched together in 2013 in Over-the-Rhine. If all goes as planned, the new medical marijuana facility would share acreage with expanded Rhinegeist operations, Bonder said.

Half of the site, about 8 acres, would be used for an expanded refrigeration and storage Rhinegeist needs as it ramps up its distribution of its popular craft beers. The other half would house the medical marijuana operations – which would be operated by Colorado-basedMJardin. 

“They’re among the most experienced in the country,” Bonder said, adding that the group owns facility manufacturing and retail operations in Colorado.

RELATED: Where can you grow medical marijuana in Cincinnati?

Under an operating agreement, Bonder and Goulding would be the top investors and majority owners behind new medical pot enterprise, while MJardin would manage the day-to-day business.

“We love running Rhinegeist and the culture we’re building there, so we don’t want to run another business,” said Bonder. “They would have two to three of their people manage the business, and then the rest would be hired here in Cincinnati.”

Up to 300 jobs could be created on the Spring Grove site between the expanded Rhinegeist operations and the new medical pot operation, Bonder said. Should the team win a medical marijuana license on the property, construction could begin by the end of the year, Bonder said.

Should the team fail to get a license, he and Goulding would commit to finding a new tenant for the remaining 8 acres that they don’t need for expanded Rhinegeist operations, he said.

“If we get the processing and retail licenses, we could easily create 100 jobs within a couple of years,” Bonder said.

Walnut Hills-based Vestige Redevelopment Group, which received tax credits from Ohio to clean up the property, now owns the 18-acre manufacturing site. 

Former Sara Lee/Kahn's site on Spring Grove Avenue in Camp Washington. The site is now empty, ready for new development.

As part of that effort, Vestige holds a redevelopment agreement with Hamilton County aimed at creating new jobs at the site. Bonder said he and his partner are ready to sign on to that commitment to create new jobs, but he and Goulding are awaiting a decision from commissioners.

In May, the commission asked Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for a position letter on the proposed operations.

“Deters office came back and said, since (marijuana is) is federally illegal then it would be best not to have a development agreement that directly ties the county to the site,” said Bonder, who said he hasn’t seen the letter, but has only been told of the position.

If plans for the Camp Washington property fall through, Bonder said his team has other properties it’s pursuing outside of Hamilton County.

“We think this is a great opportunity, and we’re hoping to get their support,” he said. “If not, we’re going to have to move onto another site.”