Johnstown witnesses end of era as sugar factory comes down

JOHNSTOWN – The air is filled with the smell of broken mortar and burnt metal. The hole in the building and roof display the secretive insides to all who pass by. The Colorado Sweet Gold sugar factory, agricultural grand dame of Johnstown, is singing its swan song after 75 years of production.

“We held an auction several weeks ago where we sold the equipment and now what you see is the pulling of equipment and the demolition of the building,´ said Charlie Gilbert, manager of Colorado Sweet Gold. “When it comes to the future of the land, we will just have to look and see at the end. But we still have the elevator.”

Colorado Sweet Gold owns approximately 300 acres on the east side of Johnstown, and town officials are extremely interested in the future of the property.

“This is a significant plot of land and we have offered to annex the property into town to better serve it with water and sewer in the future,´ said John Franklin, Johnstown town planner.

Franklin said town officials are working with Colorado Sweet Gold to hammer out a plan for the future of the area.

“The production of sugar is the historic use of the land and within the past few years it has reduced to nothing … the economic impact of the factory’s demise was felt years ago,” Franklin said.

Initial construction on the Johnstown Sugar Factory began in 1926, with the first beets processed in the 1927 campaign. The plant also produced monosodium glutamate until 1977 and high fructose corn syrup until 2001. At the peak of production the factory could annually produce 140 million pounds of starch and 300 million pounds of refined corn syrup. However, price implosions in both the conventional corn syrup and cornstarch industries priced the small producer out of the market. The company produced its last large batch of cornstarch in 2001.

After an unsuccessful launch into the organic market in 2003, the company also looked at teaming up with Front Range Ethanol and using the plant to produce fuel from corn. The ethanol plant was met with opposition from residents and town administrators and instead chose to build in Windsor.

After the ethanol experience, Colorado Sweet Gold’s Gilbert decided it was time to take the factory and its available land in another direction.

“As far as taking the plant into running production I don’t see that happening,” Gilbert said. “The organic production or ethanol production are not going to

happen.”

Planner Franklin said his understanding is that Colorado Sweet Gold is looking at building a business park on the land.

“We have a work session with those folks next Monday (Oct. 24), with town officials and their representatives, to talk about what they want to do, be it a business park or other idea,” he said.