Land exchange to benefit Grain Train and city

August 11, 2018

If the Norfolk City Council approves a proposed land exchange, the Orphan Grain Train will be one step closer to expanding its operation in Norfolk.

The two entities have discussed the possibility of exchanging a narrow strip of land the Orphan Grain Train owns on the east side of Seventh Street between Phillip and Park Avenues for a parking lot on the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Madison Avenue owned by the city.

So far, officials with the charitable organization and the city are on board with the deal that was nearly approved at the council’s meeting last Monday.

The vote was delayed to take care of language in the agreement, said Grant Schmidt, vice president of the Orphan Grain Train.

The Orphan Grain Train provides humanitarian relief to people around the world. If it acquires the land, it will continue to be used as a parking lot for volunteers and the public who will be visiting the expanded warehouse and processing facility the organization is planning to build.

Now, the warehouse and loading dock are located on Phillip Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets, across from the organization’s headquarters.

The warehouse is not handicap accessible, Schmidt said. Plus, volunteers who work there and people who come to donate items use an entry that is close to the loading dock, which is inconvenient.

To address those and other issues, the Orphan Grain Train is planning to expand its warehouse with an addition to the east of the current building. To do that, the brick building on the corner of Sixth Street and Phillip Avenue will be torn down. That building has been empty for many years and is now owned by the Grain Train.

The current warehouse and the new facility will be connected by a passageway, Schmidt said.

The addition will include space for Mercy Meals, which is now located on the corner of Seventh Street and Madison Avenue.

Mercy Meals is a nonprofit organization that packages a nutritious, rice-based food product that is shipped by the Orphan Grain Train to people around the world.

While Schmidt wasn’t ready to reveal the cost of the proposed project, he said the expansion is needed to facilitate the organization’s growth.

Two years ago, the Orphan Grain Train processed and shipped $39 million worth of goods, he said. Last year, that number was $45 million. It has 26 divisions located around the country.

“People have been so generous and supportive that we’ve outgrown our space,” Schmidt said.

Plus, the Grain Train and Mercy Meals need larger processing centers that will accommodate more people, he said.

“Now we’re limited to how many people we can have at one time,” he added.

The Orphan Grain Train isn’t the only entity that will benefit from the land exchange.

The City of Norfolk will be acquiring land needed for its expanded beautification project, and the central part of town will look a little nicer once the new facility is completed, Schmidt said.

“That area will be cleaned up,” he said.

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