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EDA approves big grants

Suffolk’s Economic Development Authority on Wednesday approved two Economic Development Investment Program grants worth $200,000 for a new retail development and a new distribution center for an ice-cream company.

The Riverfront Shoppes, a new 39,000-square-foot retail, office and medical development in the Harbour View area, will receive one of the grants for $100,000. The development has announced a signed lease with Taste Unlimited, a chain that began with one shop in Virginia Beach in 1973 and since then has grown to six locations in the Hampton Roads area. It offers a lunch menu and catering as well as specialty food retail items featuring local producers, plus wine and gifts.

Meanwhile, Blue Bell Creameries, the maker of the No. 3 top-selling branded ice cream in America, announced it will build a new distribution facility in Northgate Commerce Park. The company already leases space at Suffolk Cold Storage. It also will receive a $100,000 grant for its new $5.8-million, 14,000-square-foot building.

The Taste Unlimited location is expected to be open by the middle of next year, according to a city press release. The $6 million Riverfront Shoppes location, being developed by the Gee’s Group, is anticipated to have additional announcements for restaurants and medical groups in the coming weeks, according to the press release.

Fans worked hard to bring the company to Suffolk, company co-owner Jon Pruden said.

“Our loyal fans from the city went so far as to create a Facebook page to recruit us to Harbour View,” Pruden said in the press release. “We are happy to bring our unique specialty food experience to this rapidly growing area.”

Over at Northgate Commerce Park, Blue Bell’s investment will take place on a 2.5-acre site. The new building will include administrative offices as well as cold storage space, loading docks and fleet parking.

Founded in 1907, Blue Bell has only been available in Virginia for five years.

“Many residents had never even heard of Blue Bell Ice Cream when we entered the Suffolk area in 2013,” Health Stallings, sales manager of the Blue Bell Hampton Roads transfer station, said in a press release. “In just a short time, our sales have grown tremendously and we now need a larger facility to better serve this area. We are excited to bring building a new branch and put down roots here in Suffolk.”

The new Blue Bell location is expected to begin construction in 2015 and bring in six additional employees, for a total of 20. About $2.15 million worth of equipment also is expected to come in.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson expressed excitement about both new announcements.

“The Taste expansion announcement at the Riverfront Shoppes sets the foundation for this new development at Harbour View,” she was quoted as saying in a press release. “The investment the Gee’s Group is making with the Riverfront Shoppes helps Suffolk continue to generate jobs and makes this stunning community more dynamic to live and work in.”

About Blue Bell, she was quoted as saying, “Blue Bell’s decision to establish a permanent distribution center in Northgate Commerce Park is significant. They are recognized for thorough employee training as well as producing an excellent product. Any community would be thrilled to have Blue Bell operate there.”

In addition, the EDA at its Wednesday meeting approved a previously announced EDIP grant for $475,000 to Friant and Associates. The furniture company is building a new manufacturing and distribution center off Holland Road in the CenterPoint development.

The $475,000 will be paid in three phases as investment milestones are reached.

The source for all three EDIP grants is the city’s general fund, Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said. In addition, Friant received a state-funded grant from the governor’s opportunity fund in the amount of $200,000.