SUNDAY FOCUS: Ceres spec building remains unoccupied since 1995

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, October 27, 2018

There is a white elephant sitting in Warren County’s Ceres Industrial Park.

In 1995, the county built a 64,000-square-foot spec, or speculation, building at Ceres next to Interstate 20 for an estimated $1 million.

In the 23 years since its construction, it has never been occupied. It is no longer included in the Mississippi Development Authority’s description of Ceres on its website.

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The building is basically walls and a roof and support beams.

“It was built that way, because they felt an industry would fit it to meet their needs, but the way it was constructed doesn’t seem to meet today’s needs,” Warren County Port Commission president Margaret Gilmer said. The port commission oversees Ceres. “We were up and coming to be able to do that (build a spec building), because not all industrial parks were able to do it.”

But while it has remained empty, what the building has done, present and former economic development officials said, is serve as a draw for other companies to look as Ceres.

“Back in the day, industrial parks were building buildings they thought would attract someone to stop and look, and I think it has served that purpose,” Gilmer said.

“It was what drew Tan-Tec and Laclede Chain to the park,” said Wayne Mansfield, former Warren County port director, now president and CEO of the Longview, Texas, Economic Development Corp.

“The draw was ‘here’s an available building,’ and then when I got somebody in the park like Tan-Tec, and he said, ‘This is not big enough,’ then I said, ‘Let me show you the old Calsonic building,’ and it was the same with Laclede chain. The priority was to get someone in the building, but at the same time, I wanted someone in the park.”

Nearly a done deal

Mansfield said the Port Commission continued to market the property through partner agencies like Entergy, MDA, and the Greater Jackson Alliance. “We had a number of prospects view it,” he said.

“We came very close to locating someone in that building. We had a deal with a bakery, and we had kind of a gentlemen’s verbal, we were proceeding down the line to finalize everything and the vice president called me and said they could not do the deal.

“As it turned out, they wound up buying out Sara Lee, and Sara Lee had three facilities in Mississippi, one just east of Jackson toward Meridian, and they didn’t want to put a lot of capital into a building that they needed to put in to buildings they just purchased.”

Too costly

The cost of outfitting a vacant building is another consideration that has made the spec building a hard sell.

Gilmer said that is what the commissioners are hearing from companies, adding company officials looking at the building have said they could build a new building for the cost of outfitting the spec building, especially in the last few years.

“It’s a speed to market thing,” Mansfield said. “In 2008, we had a recession and there were a lot of companies going bankrupt, closing doors across the country. So there was an availability and an inventory of buildings already finished out. Those went first because they could be finished out quicker than finishing out the spec building.

“The thought of trying to fit it (the spec building) to the needs of a certain company, the time frame to get the necessary capital in place, the plans drawn up, that takes time. If there is an available building, that’s going to be more attractive, because the company will be able to get it ready so much quicker.”

Since she has been on the Port Commission, Gilmer said, there have been some inquiries from companies about subdividing the building.

“They only needed a certain amount of space,” she said. “That brought up the problem of what do you do with the other part if you don’t find an adaptable tenant for the other space.”

Not giving up

Presently, said Pablo Diaz, executive director of the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce and county economic development director, the grounds around the building are maintained along with the other areas of the park, but the building itself has been left alone.

“The county has no specific maintenance budget for the building itself,” he said, adding the building needs some repairs. “At this point, investment in repairs for the building is needed before a regular maintenance budget would make sense.”

And the port commission, he said, is working to develop strategies that may be necessary regarding the building.

“As we have evaluated a number of potential paths to do something with that property, we have continued to show it to anyone that might have an interest but as it is evident, the building is in need of upgrades and investment that unfortunately make it a hard sell for investors looking to move into a building within very short periods of time.

“We look forward to continuing work with the commissioners and the (board of) supervisors in developing a final strategy that can help us take advantage of this specific asset.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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