Canton mayor confirms buyer has submitted letter of intent to purchase Canton mill

Pactiv Evergreen's now-shuttered paper mill in Canton has drawn the attention of a potential buyer, but there's still a long way to go. Pactiv Evergreen's now-shuttered paper mill in Canton has drawn the attention of a potential buyer, but there's still a long way to go. Cory Vaillancourt photo

While there are still many uncertainties surrounding the ultimate fate of Pactiv Evergreen’s now-shuttered mill site in Canton, the situation has come somewhat into focus with confirmation from Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers that a management consulting firm has submitted a letter of intent to purchase the property.

Spirtas Worldwide, headquartered in St. Louis, is a management consulting firm that specializes in construction, demolition and environmental remediation support either as a property owner or as a contractor.

Nearly all of Spirtas Worldwide’s services and expertise could be utilized across Pactiv’s 185-acre mill site, or only on a portion of it.

According to the company’s website, it can create and execute structured demolition packages, plant decommissioning plans and environmental remediation strategies. Spirtas also works in real estate development, plant repurposing, facility or landfill operations, tenant acquisition and property management through its 39 North Property Management unit.

The company has been in the news as recently as late 2023, when it performed demolition work at the David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. A year earlier, Spirtas demolished the iconic six-story, 121-year-old Imperial Brewing Company building in Kansas City. Two years prior, Spirtas imploded a trio of smokestacks at a decommissioned coal power plant in East Alton, Illinois.

Spirtas’ involvement at the Canton site wouldn’t be the first time the company has dealt with a paper mill. In 2023, an LLC associated with the company’s owner, Eric J. Spirtas, purchased a former paper mill in Lee, Massachusetts.

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Contrary to rumors on social media, there’s absolutely no indication on what the final site will look like — be it residential, commercial or industrial.

As when The Smoky Mountain News broke the story of the mill’s closing on March 6, 2023, local officials had little notice from Pactiv and no input in the decision.

“It’s a little bit like déjà vu,” Smathers said. “Once again, there’s been an announcement made that is out of our control. I have many, many questions. I have just spoken to Eric Spirtas for the first time, and we will be having many conversations in the near future. But what it all boils down to is we will continue to make clear – just like we have with Pactiv, they must do good not just by the current citizens of Haywood County, but all the those who came before them.”

“We’re asking that our past, our traditions and our desires are incorporated into this. I shared that with Mr. Spirtas, and it was a good conversation. There are many concerns including the dam, the wastewater. I’m optimistic he understands this is not just another project but the place that we call home.”

Smathers cautioned that at the same time, he wants Pactiv to understand that it can’t walk away from its existing responsibilities, which include operation of the wastewater treatment plant, maintenance of the Lake Logan dam and environmental cleanup on the site.

The letter of intent submitted to Pactiv is not ironclad; it simply indicates the start of a due diligence period that is expected to be lengthy. Details of the proposed purchase are not yet available. 

Reached by phone shortly after Smathers' confirmation, Eric Spirtas said there was much to do. 

"Spirtas Worldwide is please to share that it has signed an exclusive letter of intent to purchase the Pactiv Evergreen site in Canton, North Carolina," he told SMN. "Spirtas has extensive experience in industrial redevelopment and environmental cleanup of manufacturing plants and industrial facilities, including multiple former paper mills. We are committed to operating safely and responsibly, and we recognize the site's importance to the local community. We've already met with Town of Canton officials and look forward to a smooth transition as we invest to support the region's economic development goals."

Asked about the situation with the wastewater treatment plant on the site — it treats leachate from a landfill as well as Canton's municipal waste — Spirtas said, "We're going to make sure it's town and county first in those types of decisions."

Pactiv Evergreen has not been responsive to requests for comment from The Smoky Mountain News about any aspect of the mill’s closure, however, a statement obtained by SMN reads as follows:

"Our exclusive letter of intent with Spirtas Worldwide is an important milestone in positioning our former Canton mill site for the future. Over the last year, we undertook a thorough process, working actively with the town of Canton and a number of potential interested parties. With Spirtas’ financial resources and significant industrial redevelopment experience, we are confident they are the right partner to invest in Canton for the future. We look forward to working closely with Spirtas in the coming months, as well as the town of Canton and other government officials, to negotiate a sale and ensure a smooth transition."

 This is a developing story.

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