European Conglomerate Signs Long-Term Lease
By Bruce Edwards
Already a shadow of its former self, the 122-year-old Vermont Marble Co. on Wednesday announced that it had officially relinquished control over its best known and most valuable asset, the Imperial Quarry in Danby.
The company said that it had signed an agreement Tuesday to lease its Danby quarry to a group of international companies led by European Granites Co. of Holland. European Granites is part of R.E.D. Graniti Group Holding of Italy.
At the same time a New York City company said Wednesday that it was negotiating to buy Vermont Marble’s Rochester quarry.
The announcement of the signing of the lease came three weeks after R.E.D. Graniti confirmed that it was close to finalizing a deal to lease the famous Danby quarry, the world’s largest underground marble quarry. European granites will operate the quarry under the name Vermont Quarries Corp.
A Vermont Marble press release was sparse on details of the agreement. It said the company entered into a long-term mineral lease and that European Granites will market the Danby marble worldwide. No financial terms were disclosed.
A spokesman for the union the represents the quarry’s workers said the lease was good news for the works and for the future of the quarry. “It was clear to us that Pluess-Staufer was not interested in marble manufacturing,” said Thomas Rollins, unit leader of Local 4 of the United Steelworkers of America. Pluess-Staufer is the Swiss-based owner of Vermont Marble.
Rollins speculated that if Pluess-Staufer had continued to operate the quarry that “inside of a year they would have close the quarry altogether.”
He said the new company had made a commitment to modernize equipment at the quarry and at least double production.
Quarry supervisor Michael Blair was equally upbeat about the change in operation. “I think it’s the greatest thing to happen to the Danby quarry,” said Blair. “To me the average quarry worker can breathe a sigh of relief to work for people who want to be in the business.”
Blair said the new operators had already ordered $500,000 in new equipment. He said by the end of 1994 more than $1 million will have been invested in new equipment including diamond tunneling saws and hydraulic drilling machinery.
The emphasis on increased production should also mean new job opportunities. Blair estimated that by June or July the company would add five new workers to its current payroll of 23 workers with more hirings possible in the future.
The lease of the Danby quarry will not affect the operation of the company’s mill and marble exhibit in Proctor or its quarry in Rochester, according to the Vermont Marble press release.
However, the company is on the verge of getting rid of its Rochester quarry, the source of Verde Antique or dark green marble.
“We’re in negotiations for the purchase of the Rochester quarry,” said Don Cavallacci, president of Marble Modes of Queens, N.Y. Cavallacci said if the negotiations go as expected the purchase should be finalized sometime next month.
Marble Modes is a manufacturer and distributor of marble and granite products, but currently does not own any quarries, Cavallacci said.
He also said his company was not interested in buying Vermont Marble’s mill in Proctor or its other quarry in Isle La Motte where Champlain Black marble is quarried. Cavallacci called the mills and its equipment is obsolete.
The lease of the Danby quarry and the pending sale of the Rochester quarry have fueled speculation that Vermont Marble will eventually close its mill unless a buyer can be found. Approximately 17 union workers are employed at the plant.
Vermont Marble’s parent company, Pluess-Staufer AG of Oftringen, Switzerland, has been interested in getting out of the marble business since shortly after it acquired the company in 1976 from the Proctor family trusts and a number of other stockholders.
The Swiss company’s primary interest in buying the company in 1976 was to acquire Vermont Marble’s numerous quarries in order to expand its calcium carbonate operation into the U.S. Pluess-Staufer operates a major calcium carbonate plant in Florence, Vt.
Calcium carbonate is manufactured from crushed marble, limestone or chalk. It is used as a filler in the paint, plastics and paper industries.
Vermont Marble spokesman Robert Condon said Wednesday that immediate plans are to continue operating the mill. However, he was noncommittal about the long-term future of the plant where the marble is cut and finished.
Condon said the mill is for sale, but if the mill isn’t sold Vermont Marble has enough marble stockpiled to continue operating. He also said the company could purchase additional marble from the Danby quarry’s new operators.
Condon said Pluess-Staufer chose to lease the quarry rather than sell it because the company may decide in the distant future to use the quarry to supply marble for its calcium carbonate operation.
European Granites Co. is the Dutch sub-holding company of R.E.D. Graniti Holding Co. of Mass, Italy. European Granites is one of Europe’s largest distributor of raw blocks. It has facilities in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, India, South Africa and Namibia.
According to R.E.D. Graniti President Giorgio Conti, European Granites has a 75 percent interest in the Danby quarry lease. Another company, F.LLI Mazzuchelli of Carrara, Italy owns the remaining 25 percent interest.