This ain’t your mama’s bowling alley. Or your daddy’s racetrack, for that matter.
In a new generation of uses for formerly bustling sports venues, the medical marijuana business has taken root. Entrepreneurs began repurposing industrial sites into budding grow operations after medical marijuana became legal in Colorado as a result of the favorable 2000 vote.
Two operations taking advantage of empty facilities to participate in the growing field are Medibis LLC, at the 17.67-acre Rocky Mountain Greyhound Park in northern Colorado Springs, and Palmer Lake Wellness Center in that town’s 2.62-acre former PINZ Bowling Center.
State law requires medical marijuana dispensaries be attached to grow operations. Both the greyhound park and bowling alley have plants growing in secure areas behind their dispensaries.
Greyhounds to grows
Built in 1949, the iconic racetrack at 3701 N. Nevada Ave. hosted live racing until 2005. Three years later, the track closed. In 2009, it sold for $1.52 million to Full Circle VIII LLC, a group managed and at least partially owned by Richard Kelly.
“I prefer not to comment” on the grow operation, Kelly said. “Nothing I could say would work out to the benefit of the tenants out there.” The real estate is listed for sale, Kelly said, for slightly more than $5 million.
Medibis LLC has operated a grow and medical marijuana dispensary there since 2010, state records show. According to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the registered agent for Medibis LLC is Jyung Woo Kwon-Lee of Colorado Springs. He could not be reached for comment.
“We’re under new management [in March] and about to be under new ownership,” said store manager Steve Riley. The new and former owner both live in Colorado Springs, Riley said. He did not reveal their names. “As far as I know it’s their only [grow operation].”
The Medibis owner did not return Business Journal phone calls or emails.
Bowling for bucks
Farther north, the former PINZ Bowling Center at 855 Highway 105 in Palmer Lake is in the process of transforming into a massive grow operation for medical marijuana. The land and building with more than 23,000 square feet of space is owned by Flying Buffalo LLC. Palmer Lake Wellness Center is now in business there. Its owner and operator is Dino Salvatori of Golden.
“The building … was trashed,” Salvatori said. “But the owners have been awesome. They don’t smoke weed. I don’t smoke weed. It’s a business deal for both of us.”
Salvatori, 55, anticipates spending more than $2 million transforming the former bowling alley, installing lights and watering devices, upgrading the electrical system, building walls, installing dozens of security cameras and hiring employees.
“There are alarms. There are cameras on every single door, some hidden, some not,” Salvatori said. “The people around the area who don’t hate what I do feel more secure. Security is a requirement of the state. They want to know what I’m doing and they also want to know who’s breaking in.”
As for the cost to grow the business: “It’s expensive,” said Salvatori. “When all the construction is done, I’ll get my payback.”
“I can’t grow a weed.”
– Dino Salvatori
Saying, “I can’t grow a weed,” Salvatori has a background in machining and experience in marijuana grows. He operated a marijuana grow business in Lakewood, which he said he sold to his partner last year. He knew the previous owner of Palmer Lake’s medical marijuana store.
“I started seeking out different places to do this with the anticipation of a marijuana infused products license,” he said. “With the anticipation of that, I made a deal with the bowling alley.”
The business moved to its new location about a month ago. About 5,000 square feet of space comprises the grow operation. At full-grow, he hopes to dedicate 16,000 square feet for plants.
“I have helped a lot of people — medically,” he said. “Most of them are elderly, and they use it for pain or nausea or to get them to sleep. I have a hundred stories I could tell you.”
His customers with cancer use marijuana as an appetite enhancer, and others use it to suppress seizures.
With the MIP license, the Palmer Lake operation creates and sells raw marijuana as well as wax, shatter and concentrated oils, said Ryan McGuire, head extract specialist at the Palmer Lake Wellness Center.
Currently, the building houses around 600 plants, said employee Kat Wolford.
Because marijuana is considered illegal by the federal government, banks and credit unions do not allow deposits from marijuana operations for fear of facing federal charges of money-laundering for drug dealers.
As a result, “I pay everything in cash. I pay my rent in cash. I pay my light bill in cash,” said Salvatori, who added there is no money left at the end of the month. “Everyone thinks this is a $1 million-a-month business, but it is not. It is expensive. What I make in the store there, hopefully pays the bills.”
Proceeds from medical marijuana are far lower than those from recreational sales, he said.
A growing business
Colorado Springs has 105 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Statewide, the number of licensed medical marijuana centers totals 512.
For retail marijuana, statewide, there are 362 licensed outlets. Retail operations are not required to be attached to grow operations. As of June 1, 21 of Colorado’s 64 counties allow retail marijuana, and 45 municipalities allow sales within their boundaries.
According to the revenue department, the 2.9 percent state sales tax for medical marijuana contributed $205,057 to El Paso County in April sales, reported in May, the most recent figures available. El Paso County followed Denver County in sales tax collections, at $266,771, and statewide, medical marijuana sales taxes contributed $895,205 to county governments during that same month.
In the same time period, retail marijuana sales contributed $4.9 million in taxes to state and local governments.