By Dave Taylor
The former Dal-Tile plant in Lewisport, which ceased operation just this month on July 17, won’t sit idle for long after a local business man has signed a purchase agreement for the site and he’s announced plans to put it to use while trying to lure a new industry to the building.
Gary Nugent, Jr. signed a purchase agreement with Dal-Tile to buy the 292,000 square foot building and the approximately 80-acre property, which he plans to clean up and use as warehousing while marketing the plant across the state.
“I think it’s easier to sell a building if it’s being used, even if it’s just being used for a warehouse,” Nugent said. “You keep the lights on and make sure there’s no roof leaks.”
The plant is visible from most parts of Lewisport, and some worried when the company announced it was closing that the enormous metal building would sit unused and become an eye sore, much like the former Alcoa building that sat empty for years but is currently being renovated to become Envision Modular.
“I think it’s very positive that the turnover of that building is happening quickly, as opposed to, like we saw with Alcoa, that building was there for 13 years or so with no takers,” said Mike Baker, director of the Hancock County Industrial Foundation. “And for one of our own local businessmen to buy that building and to keep it in use is a very positive thing or our community and for the economic development of the county.”
Nugent is very familiar with the plant, having bought the company that supplied the clay to the tile plant several years ago. That company, L.R. Chapman, was instrumental in bringing the plant to Lewisport in the 1950s and provided a constant supply of clay up until the plant’s closure.
He’s hoping to sell it as quickly as he bought it, in the hopes that someone can come in and replace the approximately 65 jobs that were lost when Dal-Tile closed.
“If a place can come in there and put 40 or 50 jobs, you know, then that would be the best case either way,” he said.
As the owner of the company that supplied the clay for the tile, Nugent would like to see someone locate there that would need large quantities of clay, but he said anyone that will create jobs is welcome.
In the meantime he plans to use it for warehouse space, storing aluminum, paper, or whatever else local industries might need to store for later use.
Former Hancock County judge-executive Jack McCaslin, who works part-time for Nugent, said he is excited about the prospects of the building and its potential for bringing in another industry.
“I think a plant like that could be used for a lot of different kind of factories,” he said.
He pointed out that the building is self-supporting, and the 25 foot roof height is consistent throughout. There’s a railroad spur that once entered the building, which could be put back, and the plant has three-phase power, a huge gas supply available, and a recent dry sprinkler system upgrade. And, he said, it’s in a good location down a straight industrial road that leads to Highway 60.
“It’s got so many options. I’ve never seen a place that had that many options,” he said.
McCaslin said he believes Nugent could sell the plant and about 30 acres to an industry to create dozens of jobs, but create even more by using the remaining 50 or so acres to either build on or sell to other companies.
“If he’s got a smaller company that wants to hire 10 people and they want 10 acres, sell them 10 acres,” he said.
And if the warehousing works out in the short-term, McCaslin said Nugent could request to become a foreign trade zone, where companies can store goods to avoid taxes on goods in transit, and he could build his own warehouses on the other land around the plant.
“And I think there’s already some companies interested in storing some aluminum here around the county because the one down there’s full,” McCaslin said, referring to Watco, the county’s current FTZ warehouse.
Nugent said the idea of warehousing has led to rumors that he would be storing waste material or even garbage in the plant, which he said was not only untrue but wouldn’t even make sense.
“I’ve never known of garbage being valuable enough to handle,” he said. “If you did use it for warehousing it would be a lot cleaner than it is now.”
Baker sees a lot of potential for the plant and he believes it could be attractive for companies looking at previous industrial sites, or brownfield sites, and who are wanting to get going quickly.
“A lot of companies today are looking for brownfield sites that they can get in business and be up and running in a much quicker time frame than if they buy property and build a plant,” he said. “We’re going to do everything on the economic development side to assist him and help him in marketing that building and looking for additional uses for that facility…”
Nugent is set to close on the property on September 1, and he will begin warehousing materials and marketing the property immediately in the hopes he can lure more jobs and more revenue to the county soon, and that he can possibly provide trucking and other services to the new outfit.
“I’d rather something go in there and me support it like we do other industry around here,” he said. “We don’t’ want to be the industry, we want to support the industry.”