MILTON-FREEWATER - While news of the impending closure of the Tree Top Inc. plant is a blow to the community, not everyone believes the future is bleak.

Tree Top officials announced Thursday that the apple and cherry processing plant will close before the end of the year.

"Everything presents a new opportunity," said Paul Seaquist, a Realtor at Century 21 Seaquist & Associates. "The fruit industry obviously is in lots of turmoil, but it certainly is not, by any means, a kiss of death for Milton-Freewater."

Seaquist said closure of the Tree Top plant means its 40,000 square feet of space will be available for another employer. He said he was "not at liberty" to comment on any possible new occupants for the property, which is in south Milton-Freewater, east of Sykes Enterprises Inc.

"With that much room, there's a tremendous opportunity," he said.

"They have a first-class workforce there," Seaquist said of the Tree Top employees. "My view is that these people could be very quickly assimilated into any other business."

Linda Hall, assistant city manager, said Tree Top is one of the community's major employers.

She said the closure would be "a blow to our economic climate," but she praised Tree Top officials for the way they are handling the situation.

"My understand is that they are being very thoughtful and considerate and as generous as possible with their employees," she said. "I'm proud of them for that."

Hall said she thought other businesses had expressed interest in the property and she hoped Tree Top can be replaced with another major employer.

Cheryl York of the Milton-Freewater Chamber of Commerce, said the closure is "quite unfortunate," especially considering the closure of the Seneca plant in November.

Realtor Marge Roff said she was "very disappointed" but hopeful that the space can be reoccupied.

"I would hope that between now and the time they close and move away that they can find a buyer," she said. "We would sure like to see that happen."

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