Other shuttered IP mills repurposed

Published 9:09 am Saturday, November 21, 2009

FRANKLIN—When International Paper Co. closes its Franklin mill in the spring, the city will join a list of about a dozen communities across the country with former IP facilities, several of which have seen the mills torn down and properties repurposed.

According to the Atlanta-based Center for Paper Business and Industry Studies, IP has closed 12 mills that at one time produced paper, pulp or both.

CPBIS reports that four former IP mills — Mobile, Ala., Millers Falls and Woronoco, Mass., and Erie, Pa. — made uncoated freesheet paper, used primarily as copy and letter-writing paper. Mills in Terre Haute, Ind., and Fort Madison, Iowa, made corrugated containerboard, which is used to make cardboard boxes. Plants in Bastrop, La., and Natchez, Miss., produced pulp.

Other mills produced specialized products. CPBIS said the mill in Camden, Ark., manufactured Kraft packaging paper; the Corinth, N.Y., mill made coated freesheet paper and coated groundwood; Moss Point, Miss., made solid bleached board, and Gardiner, Ore. made linerboard and recycled paperboard.

Mobile, Ala.

Steve Russell, director of business retention and expansion for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said Friday that it took some time before a deal went through to repurpose a 400-acre former mill site in Mobile.

IP, which closed the mill in December 2000, agreed to sell the former mill site to the Alabama State Port Authority for $1.6 million in February 2005.

“It was on the water, although not very deep water,” Russell said Friday of the former mill site. “It had good rail and road access, and from an infrastructure standpoint that was a very good site.”

Russell said he believes part of the ASPA-IP deal was for the company to tear down all of the buildings on-site. Since that time, the port authority has sold parcels of the former mill site to other companies, including natural gas pipe manufacturer Berg Spiral Pipe Corp. and electric utility Calpine Corp.

Today, less than eight acres of the former IP site is still available, Russell said.

“We took a bad situation and through various economic development projects made it into a good situation,” Russell said. “It was good that (the port authority) received the property. When a prospect came in town they were able to help us partner with our economic development organization. It worked out real good, (but) obviously the number of jobs that are there today does not equal the number of jobs that were there when IP was producing paper.”

Russell added, “It’s always going to be a disappointment when a plant closes and jobs are cut. The unfortunate thing is that most of these decisions to downsize are based on the internal issues of a particular company. A community can’t do anything about it.”

Moss Point, Miss.

About an hour’s drive west of Mobile, the community of Moss Point has also had some success with redeveloping a former IP mill site.

According to the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation Inc., the Mississippi county purchased some 230 acres from IP for $3 million in 2000, three years after the mill closed. The locality has since turned the site into the Moss Point Industrial and Technology Complex. Today the site is one of several areas in the county available for industrial development.

“There could be a number of manufacturing and/or assembly oriented industries appropriate for a location on the site,” according to a JCEDF informational document on the property. “To date, there have been several industries that have performed very preliminary due diligence on the site. The Foundation is currently pursuing additional industries that are consistent with our targeted marketing strategy.”

Fort Madison, Iowa

According to Tim Gobble, vice president of community coordination and development with Lee County Economic Development Group Inc., IP closed its mill in Fort Madison, Iowa, in 2001.

“They held the facility for a little while in hopes of selling it,” Gobble said Friday. “They came into an agreement with a local company about two years ago which ultimately purchased the property, scrapped out the old foundry part of the mill and kept the offices.”

That local company was Fienberg Metals Recycling Corp., a scrap metal company.

“We’re basically just using the yard and the maintenance building,” Tabby Grelk, a Fienberg employee, said Friday. “We use the maintenance building to work on our trucks. We also have the main front offices, and we’re using a set of loading docks.”

Terre Haute, Ind.

IP closed its paper mill in Terre Haute in October 2007. Two years later, the company is demolishing the buildings there.

“As we speak it is up for sale,” Claudia Tanoos, vice president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., said Friday, adding that IP owns 1,000 acres, of which 65 comprised the mill site. “At the moment (the demolition of the former mill) is not totally done.”

Tanoos said several groups were interested in portions of the former mill’s riverfront property. Ideas for the site’s redevelopment include building condominiums, extending a nature trail along the Wabash River, and setting some land aside for future industrial development.

“They were a long-standing member of our community and provided many jobs,” Tanoos said of IP. “They told us well in advance, probably two-and-a-half years, that they were going to close and move the production to another state. However, that lasted longer than anticipated.”

Tanoos said many employees from the mill found jobs elsewhere and moved on. Others stayed on until the end to collect all of their benefits.

“Nobody wants to see an industry close, but (IP) did it the right way,” Tanoos said. “They were very positive about it and very helpful to the rest of the community. They did say that they were going to tear it down from the beginning. Whether they kept the buildings or not, I don’t think was the issue. We’re glad that there will be some more land available for industrial use.”

Bastrop, La.

Kay King, president of the Morehouse Economic Development Corp., said the IP mill in Bastrop, La. was shut down for maintenance about this time last year when the company announced that it would not reopen. The closure affected about 550 employees.

“We were really optimistic about that mill,” King said Friday. “They were considering closing it back in 2005, but during the year (before the closure) they had converted over to a pulp process. So we thought we were probably going to hang on to the mill for a little while.

“It was quite a shock for the community when they made the announcement.”

King said she had received word — from officials responsible for taking an inventory of the former mill and disposing of the 100-acre site — that IP is taking proposals for the Bastrop facilities.

“Of course, they’re not going to let anybody come in there and make paper,” King said. “We have had some people (go through there). We’re not seeing a lot of movement over there right at the moment, but I do think that there are some proposals being made. We’re just patiently waiting.”

King said a pellet company, Phoenix Pellet, had purchased another former IP mill in nearby Camden, Ark.

“They got on television and said they were interested in also buying the Bastrop mill,” King said.

Economic development officials with the Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development, which is based in Camden, weren’t available for comment.

“We’re moving forward,” King said. “The sky didn’t fall when International Paper left. We’re still prosperous.”