Mayor: Titan Tire property could become surplus

Published 12:06 am Friday, July 17, 2015

Titan Tire Corp. representatives have recently expressed interest in vacating their plant, which they still lease from the City of Natchez and has not been in service since 2001. (Sam Gause / Natchez Democrat)

Titan Tire Corp. representatives have recently expressed interest in vacating their plant, which they still lease from the City of Natchez and has not been in service since 2001. (Sam Gause / Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Titan Tire factory hasn’t rolled out anything — much less tires — since April 2001.

Located at 89 Kelly Ave., the 35-acre lot boasts nothing but an abandoned three-story factory, which used to serve as one of the biggest industries in Natchez.

And while the property may appear dismal, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he has a “handsome” idea for its future.

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“I think we need to surplus it and sell it as soon as possible,” Brown said Tuesday at the Natchez Board of Aldermen’s regular meeting. “There is nothing out there that we want, so I would love to have that property as a surplus.”

Titan Tire Corp., based out of Quincy, Illinois, is currently leasing the property from the city.

Brown said representatives from Titan have recently expressed interest in vacating the property, and turning it back over to the city.

However, before the corporation can leave the property, Brown said Titan must first meet a list of requirements established by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), ensuring that the building and the land it sits on is environmentally sound.

“They will have to do what is necessary for them to turn it back over to us,” Brown explained. “Once that is done and they’ve removed all their equipment, I’m assuming we would immediately take possession of the property.”

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said Titan, MDEQ and Natchez Inc. have been working together to determine the property’s future.

“First, the MDEQ will probably have to do an assessment of the property and identify any environmental issues,” Russ said. “It’s an old building, so I would be shocked if they didn’t find anything.”

Most environmental issues, Russ said, would be minor — and pose no harm to the public.

“Once the MDEQ completes the assessment, that will really tell us how long it will take for the property to be turned back over to the city,” Russ said.

Once the property is in city hands, Brown said the board of aldermen would then be able to vote on making it a surplus property.

“The bottom line is, it’s better released or sold,” Brown said. “The city does not need a manufacturing facility.”

The factory has been under lease by several entities since 1938.

It started out as the Armstrong Tire Co. under the Balancing Agriculture with Industry Program, a long-term lease program that allowed the city to take out a bond to purchase the property in order to encourage industrial growth.

In 1986, when Armstrong closed its Natchez plant, some of the management of Armstrong formed the Condere Corp. and bought the plant out, renaming it Fidelity Tire.

After Condere went bankrupt in 1998, Titan Tire purchased the plant.

Kenneth Young, engineer for Natchez Titan Tire, has worked at the plant for more than 40 years.

Today, he serves as the property’s engineer, and oversees its security — which is implemented 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by several employees.

“There’s not much inside (the factory),” Young said. “Most of the equipment has been moved out within the last 14 years.”

Young has seen the factory exchange hands from Armstrong, to Fidelity and finally to Titan.

While the factory was operational, he said the main products made were tires used for agriculture, construction, mining, military and recreation purposes.

“While it was Titan, there were several hundred employees,” Young said. “When it was Armstrong, there were several thousand.”

As to why the factory closed, Young said there are several explanations.

“You would get a different answer on that depending on whom you talk to,” he said. “Some people would say the factory was just old. Others would say there were disagreements with money. To be honest, I don’t know why.”

Young said Thursday was the first time he had heard Titan would be ending their lease, and the city might sell the property.

It didn’t come as a shock to him, though.

“I kind of saw this coming,” he said. “But I guess when you come to the same place for over 40 years, you kind of get attached.”

Brown said he currently doesn’t know what the ideal use for the building would be in the future.

But, he expects the city to profit a pretty penny from its sale.

“The ideal outcome would be for the city to sell it at a handsome price, and do so quickly,” Brown said. “The longer we hold on to it, and keep it in inventory, the more it is going to cost us.”