Massachusetts: Cannabis Firm Plans Million-Dollar Renovation in Downtown Springfield

Written by: Mary C. Serreze – Mass Live

The CEO of a cannabis firm said he “fell in love with” a historic building in downtown Springfield, and promised a “complete renovation” of the former Hampden Bank headquarters if his company gains approval to open a recreational marijuana dispensary.

Chris Mitchem, leader and co-founder of the Oregon-based Diem Cannabis, on Saturday described plans to “put a million bucks” into the 1665 Main St. building, built in 1918 and located across the street from the Paramount Theater.

“It will look like the original Hampden Savings Bank,” Mitchem said. “We got 100-year-old blueprints from the city, and are in the process of digitizing them.” The building was a law office for five decades before closing in recent years.

Mitchem said the light-filled building, with its 30-foot glass ceiling and a marble interior, “needs a lot of work,” but suggested that cash flow from a $5 million-per-year business would make the investment profitable.

“We’re excited to contribute to the revitalization of Springfield,” said Mitchem, who said Diem has raised $12.5 million in capital to invest in its Massachusetts operations.

Mitchem noted that MGM Springfield has invested millions “at the other end of Main Street,” and that a $41 million renovation of the Paramount Theater is also underway. “Marijuana enriches the community around it. This will become a high-traffic area,” he said.

Mitchem said the three-year-old company holds seven licenses in Oregon, and has never had a compliance issue. “We know how to run a responsible marijuana business that complies with all state and local laws,” he told attendees at Saturday’s “community outreach meeting” at Tower Square Hotel.


Diem Cannabis CEO Chris Mitchem and Operations Manager John DiNovella present plans for a dispensary in downtown Springfield.

The CEO described security measures, pledged to create good jobs, said Diem’s clientele would consist mostly of “everyday people” as opposed to “stoners,” talked about the company’s experience, and fielded questions.

Springfield broker Freddy Lopez said he’s been working on the real estate deal for several months, and that the sale ought to close soon. “I had the building listed for over a year,” said Lopez. “Nobody else can put that kind of investment in unless they are going to get their money back.”

An African-American man asked Mitchem, who is white, “how brown people will be able to get in the game” when well-heeled out-of-state investors bring big money into town.

“Are you willing to partner with us, or are you just going to build your franchises across the country?” asked the man, who did not give his name. Mitchem said the war on drugs and its impact upon communities of color makes him “sick to his stomach,” said his company plans to hire a diverse workforce, and told the man he would “welcome feedback” on the matter.

Wayne Nelson, with the Stop Access Drug Free Communities Coalition, asked how Diem would prevent youth access to marijuana. Mitchem said youth cannabis use use actually goes down in states where marijuana is legal, and agreed that “while your brain is developing you should not be using marijuana.” He encouraged Nelson to “get in touch” to discuss how Diem could potentially offer support for healthy youth programs.

In response to a question about the black market, Mitchem said it’s still thriving in California, where the effective tax on legal marijuana is around 33 percent. In Oregon, and in Massachusetts, the effective tax hovers at 20 percent, meaning commercial cannabis can compete.

He said people are willing to pay a little extra to know that their cannabis is “a high-quality product” that’s been independently tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxins. “People on the black market can grow crap,” he said.

Charlie Knight of the Armory-Quadrangle Civic Association expressed a general concern and referenced the city’s history. “Some of us were young people during the sixties, and this is the birthplace of Timothy Leary,” he said. “We don’t want to see people using too much and messing up their lives.”

Kathy Brown, president of the East Springfield Neighborhood Council, told The Republican that she attended “to make sure whatever happens benefits the citizenry.”

She said she wants to make sure the city “maintains a transparent process over time” when it comes to compliance and oversight. Brown noted that the City Council in September voted to allow 15 recreational marijuana retail licenses.

Mitchem vowed to maintain transparency and an open line of communication, and said his business would bring multiple community benefits. “Our motto is ‘work hard and be a good person,'” he said. “I do the right thing all the time, even if it hurts.”

Diem’s initial community meeting is the first step in a months-long process. The company will need a license from the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, a special permit from the city, and must also negotiate a local host community agreement.

Once all the paperwork is lined up, construction should take four months, said Mitchem, who appeared with John DiNovella, Diem’s Worcester-based retail operations manager.

Mitchem said the company has raised $12.5 million from Tidal Royalty Corp., a Canadian investment firm that specializes in cannabis. Diem plans retail operations in Worcester and Lynn, and a cultivation and manufacturing facility in Orange.