Future of Titan Tire property still in limbo

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 25, 2010

NATCHEZ — Though years have passed since Titan Tire closed its Natchez doors, the situation between city officials and Titan leaders still resembles a Wild West standoff, with one side waiting for the other to make a move.

The Titan Tire Corporation officially closed its Natchez factory nearly a decade ago, as Titan Tire of Natchez Manager Kenneth Young stated in a December 2009 letter to the Department of Environmental Quality, but what will become of the property is still in limbo.

“If they cleared it off, at least, they could make a park for the people,” former city attorney Walter Brown said. “If they don’t clear it off, the plant could still be usable as a warehouse.”

Brown said due to the new world economy, the age of the factory and unions, the site has likely made its last tire.

“With everyone in the world making tires at 10 cents an hour, and these guys having to pay employees more in the U.S., I don’t believe it is feasible,” Brown said.

Brown said the city has the title to the property and Titan Tire owns the equipment inside, which has the greater value. Brown said the city is also subject to a request from Titan Tire to buy the lease for $100.

Titan Tire had previously made that request, but was denied in 2001 during former mayor Hank Smith’s term for not fulfilling the agreement of the Balance Agriculture with Industry Program. Under BAWI, Titan Tire had to fulfill certain agreements, such as providing employment, which it was not doing at the time, as it had laid off the majority of the workforce in 2001.

“If you had someone who could get the parties together, including the bank, they probably could put something together to, if nothing else, clear it off,” Brown said.

Brown said Natchez, Inc., the newly-formed economic development authority of Natchez, could be what the city needs to get something done with the property.

Natchez, Inc., Chairwoman Sue Stedman said the issue of the tire factory will come up, but that the board, which was officially created on June 1, is still in the process of coming together.

“It is like starting a brand new company, but we have covered a lot of ground,” Stedman said. “We are reviewing prospects that were already in the works with (Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority). We are making sure everyone is up to speed.”

The next step for Natchez, Inc., is to hire an executive director, Stedman said.

“It is critical that we get a director in here as soon as possible,” Stedman said.

City Attorney Everett Sanders said no action has been taken on the tire factory since he came on board.

The factory, located at 89 Kelly Ave., started out in 1939 as Armstrong Tire Company under the BAWI program, which is a long-term lease program allowing the city to take out a bond to purchase the property to encourage industrial development.

In 1986, when Armstrong closed its Natchez plant, some of the management of Armstrong formed the Condere Corporation and bought the plant out and renamed it Fidelity Tire. Condere operated the plant until 1998, when it went bankrupt, and Titan Tire purchased the plant and renamed it.

The Natchez factory has not made a tire since April 2001.

“Titan Tire Corporation has no intention of re-using the site in the future,” Young said in the December letter to the DEQ requesting that its operational permits be terminated.