Industrial life after death? Officials hopeful sites, factories can be reused

Published 12:13 am Sunday, May 5, 2013

NATCHEZ — What happens to the factory after a factory shuts down?

For 10 years, the former International Paper property has been unused. For a few years, Rentech offered a glimmer of hope that it might become active again, buying the land, demolishing some structures and selling for scrap what it could.

But when the alternative fuel company’s vision for itself changed, the plans for the coal-to-liquids fuel plant in Adams County it had planned to build were also scrapped.

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Now, the Adams County Board of Supervisors have signed a contract to buy the property in hopes that the industrial waste water plant can be reactivated for economic development purposes and that other parts of the 478 acres near the port can be reappropriated in other ways for industry.

But International Paper isn’t the only shuttered industry in Adams County. Two other factories — one offering hope for future development, the other less so — stand moldering in inactivity.

Johns Manville

Closed since 2002, the former Johns Manville site has the best potential for future repurposing, Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said.

But it’s not just a matter of finding a new industry and flipping a light switch back on.

The Johns Manville tract has a total of 212 acres, but Russ said because the site has formerly had a woodwaste disposal area and a pretreatment facility on it, the full 212 acres cannot be reopened.

“There are some environmental-restricted areas that reduce that acreage down from the 200 acres,” Russ said.

But because the Johns Manville lot already has the necessary infrastructure in place, it can still be attractive for industrial repurposing.

“You have the Kelly’s Kids facility in that same corridor, which will be available in the coming year, so you have a nice cluster out there with some services that could potentially be redeveloped as a light manufacturing thing or oil services operation,” Russ said.

But before that can happen and the old manufacturing facility currently on the site needs to be razed.

“Basically, the building that is there is roughly about a half-million square feet, needs to come down, and then you can look at it from a redevelopment standpoint,” Russ said.

“The big building is really not something that is marketable. There is a 50,000-foot warehouse built in the late 1990s that could potentially be remarketed.”

Russ said Natchez Inc. has discussed with Johns Manville the potential of the company having a demolition group raze the building and take the concrete and slab out.

“That is still in the discussion stage, and there has been no action in any way regarding that, so we are waiting for feedback from them on that,” Russ said.

Representatives for Johns Manville could not be reached for comment.

Titan Tire

Titan Tire shuttered its Natchez operations in 2001.

The City of Natchez owns the property, but Titan still holds the lease on the land and has some abatement for environmentally sensitive areas associated with the property through the years. Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he is unsure of what the city will do with the property once the lease is up.

“It is going to be a challenge, and that is one (property) I have been scratching my head over for years and years,” Brown said. “As many rabbits as we have been able to pull out of the hat, I don’t think there is a rabbit in that hat.”

Titan still has some machinery in Natchez and uses the Kelly Avenue factory for warehousing, Russ said.

But the site’s reappropriation potential is limited, Russ said, because the rail service has been reduced from the site and because the factory’s construction limits what manufacturing can be done there. It’s also landlocked by a neighborhood.

“Titan Tire was built for a singular purpose, so the ability to reuse that facility from an industrial standpoint is probably very limited,” Russ said. “It would take a significant redevelopment effort, and the surrounding property around it is limited there, which is really going to limit its attractiveness to other companies.”

Even the property’s ability to warehouse is somewhat limited because it is structured as a multi-storage facility, Brown said.

“Anybody that would use the warehouse as a warehouse would actually have three or four floors to deal with,” he said.

But the mayor said he isn’t writing the property off just yet.

“It would be a challenge to find somebody, but who is to say that there is not some niche industry out there that could use (the property) economically?” he said.

Kelly’s Kids

After starting as a cottage industry in Waterproof 30 years ago, Kelly’s Kids — a specialty children’s clothing company —  operated for a time in a large building on Louisiana 15 in Ferriday. The company eventually moved to Natchez, and its manufacturing operations have been located in a factory in El Salvador for the last 10 years.

The company recently announced it would be moving its corporate headquarters to Austin, Texas, in Spring 2014.

While Russ said the corporate offices on Liberty Road the company will be leaving can be considered as part of a cluster for marketing with Johns Manville, Kelly’s Kids former Ferriday building has been eyed by several industries in the past, including an electronic circuit board manufacturer and an ice cream cone plant.

The Town of Ferriday owns the building.

Most recently, the Memphis-based Neimaj Footwear and Apparel company has been in discussions with the town to use the Kelly’s Kids building as a distribution warehouse and research and development center for its line of eco-friendly custom and traditional athletic footwear.

Concordia Parish Economic and Industrial Development District Director Heather Malone said the company is working to finalize its lease with the Town of Ferriday.

“The company is still doing some things on their end regarding planning and financing, but it is moving slowly and surely forward,” she said.

If everything is finalized with Neimaj, Ferriday has a Delta Regional Authority Grant to upgrade the building and its utilities, Malone said.

“Because of the date of the building, and the company will also be retrofitting the building to fit their needs for the process,” she said. “The town will be working directly with their architect and engineers, because you don’t want to run new wiring and utility lines and then have to have a wall torn out.”