Industry, growth lead news

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 30, 2001

NATCHEZ – Industry – both layoffs and recruitment efforts – and major construction projects made the biggest headlines in 2001 in Natchez and Adams County.

The top 10 stories for the year, ranked in order, include:

1) International Paper’s Natchez mill announced layoffs of more than 100 hourly workers by Dec. 31.

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But company officials said most employees at the 50-year-old decided to take &uot;voluntary separation&uot; with an enhanced severance package.

In early November, unions at the mill voted in favor of an enhanced severance package with the company.

In September, members of the mill’s seven union locals voted to reject contract changes proposed by the Austria-based company.

Union officials said was thought to be the only company currently considering buying the mill. The company later announced that it was no longer interested in buying the mill.

2) A more than three-year strike by members of United Steelworkers of America Local 303L from Titan Tire of Natchez ended in early December.

That was when more than 70 percent of the union local’s members voted to approve an agreement with Titan. That ended a strike that started in September 1998 when Titan bought the tire plant from bankrupt Condere.

The vote came a little more than two months after Local 303L members voted to reject another tentative agreement with Titan.

&uot;Now we start pushing for (Titan Chief Executive Officer) Morry Taylor to reopen the plant,&uot; said President Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley. But there is still no indication when the plant, which has been in &uot;standby mode&uot; due to economic factors, could reopen.

In April, the plant scaled back its workforce from 230 workers to about 12 – mostly maintenance staff. Orders for rubber were cancelled, and the plant was put on standby mode, said CEO Morry Taylor.

3) Construction of the Natchez Convention Center started in earnest, with crews often working seven days a week to get the job done.

City officials have said the facility will be complete by mid-February, well in advance of the center’s first event in April.

The city’s bond insurer agreed in late November to allow the city to withdraw $1 million in convention center bond proceeds that had been held in escrow to help complete and furnish the almost $9 million center.

Also in November, the Board of Aldermen voted to pursue a $500,000 state loan to further fund the project.

But in early December, city officials found that an $806,000 certificate of deposit had been rolled over into the city’s bluff stabilization fund instead of the convention center fund. That amount was enough money to make the loan unnecessary.

4) Michael Ferdinand was hired as executive director of the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, and the EDA’s board was restructured.

Before starting his job as EDA director, Ferdinand had worked for the Mississippi Development Authority as a senior international business consultant since 1993.

&uot;I want to be your champion,&uot; Ferdinand said at a late August meeting designed to introduce him to local officials.

Prior to Ferdinand’s arrival, the EDA board had been without an executive director since January 1999.

Last spring, the Legislature approved reducing the board from 15 to five members. Members Woody Allen, Leon Crawford, Jack Dallas, James West and Charles Yarbrough were sworn in in late May.

5) Four-laning of U.S. 84 between Washington and Brookhaven was completed.

The occasion was marked with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by state and local dignitaries.

&uot;This opens Southwest Mississippi,&uot; said Janet Sullivan of the Adams County office of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

&uot;This gives us a straight shot to I-55, and it was many years in the making,&uot; she said.

The project began in 1976 with the grading and paving of eight miles between Roxie and Meadville.

6) Construction was completed on the Adams County Juvenile Justice Center, and employees moved in and Youth Court was held starting in late November.

Originally the center, which cost more than $2.7 million to build, was to be completed in September 2000.

But factors from personnel changes to severe weather to the discovery of asbestos tile pushed back that date.

Meanwhile, newly appointed center administrator Glenn Arnold was selected as administrator of the center.

Arnold, a longtime law enforcement officer, previously served in administration at the Jefferson-Franklin County Correctional Facility.

7) Ground was broken in March for renovations to the Sadie V. Thompson High School building, which houses a Head Start program that serves hundreds of preschoolers.

The $3.1 million renovation was funded by the Administration for Children and Families, funding organization for the AJFC Community Action Agency, which runs the Head Start program.

The project includes refurbished classrooms, a new kitchen, a new multipurpose room, electrical and wiring upgrades and new ceiling and floor tiles.

A Boys & Girls Club now being established in Natchez is still working to secure space in the building for its programs, said Youth Court Judge John Hudson, a member of the Boys & Girls Club committee.

8) Federal and state agencies committed to $3.2 million in funding to renovate Memorial Hall for use as a federal courthouse.

Funding for the project includes $1.8 million from the General Services Administration, $1 million from the U.S. Marshals Service and $400,000 from the state Department of Archives and History.

As it now stands, City of Natchez and Adams County will split the remaining $1.6 million cost 50-50, with the money to come from the issuance of urban renewal bonds.

Actually, the city and county have each agreed to issue up to $1 million in urban renewal bonds for the project, for a total of $2 million.

&uot;(But) it’s not expected to cost near that much,&uot; said Sammy Cauthen, president of Adams County Board of Supervisors. &uot;And we may get some more funds to take care of some of that cost.&uot;

9) National Park Service archeologists completed a study of the &uot;beanfield&uot; site adjacent Natchez High School, a parcel of land local governments plan to use as the site of a recreation complex.

A 7.3-acre section of the beanfield is believed to have been the site of a French settlement in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Archeologists recovered more than 5,000 items from the site.

But the team surveyed only 46.6 acres of the beanfield – not the full 101 acres the city paid more than $39,000 to have surveyed. And two acres of the 46.6-acre tract that was surveyed are privately owned

So the recreation complex project will probably be split into two phases, the first including the 37 acres that has been surveyed and can be used. But the Park Service does not want any extensive digging done on the site, such as digging needed to install a swimming pool.

Local officials have said they hope to know how much land they have to work with, what projects they hope to accomplish and how much they will cost to time to put a millage proposal before voters in November to fund the project.

10) In February, fire destroyed portions of Natchez’s Holy Family Catholic Church, including the convent, school computer lab, office space and teachers’ lounge.

But the process of rebuilding started later this year, with surveyors mapping the site in September to see how rebuilding should proceed.

The convent will not be rebuilt. Instead, the church used insurance money to purchase a house for the nuns on Orange Avenue just a few feet from the school.

Father Bob Zawacki said would like to complete rebuilding by the start of the 2002-2003 school year.

Other headline-making events in 2001 included:

-The hiring of a consultant by the City of Natchez to compile an annexation study. That study is expected in mid-January.

-The renovation of Carpenter No. 1 School as a 38-unit apartment complex for the elderly. Tenants are expected to move into the complex in January.

-Accusations leveled against the Natchez Police Department by the local chapter of the NAACP in an October meeting. The results of investigations into those allegations have not been publicly presented.