A few former mills provide us with examples:
Two historic mills in Hamilton, Ohio, closed in 2012 within months of each other. One of them, formerly Champion Paper, left behind offices that remained vacant all the way until 2015, when credit card servicer Barclaycard announced that it would open a call center in the space, creating approximately 1,500 jobs.
Plans for the remaining vacant space include building three separate sports venues—a massive indoor complex with courts and fields, a stadium for potential professional use, and a rowing center as well as a boathouse. Green Reclamation Group purchased a portion of the mill and has invested more than $5 million into restoration work. Over 600,000 square feet of building space was demolished and 500,000 square feet of factory floor was emptied out; Frances Mennone, the project manager for the development group in charge of raising funds for the project, says that even if the sports complex plans fall through, it would be a vast improvement over having the building remain, unused, with paper machines languishing.
Meanwhile, SP Fiber Technologies, a pulp and paper company located in Newberg, Oregon, has a different – perhaps more optimistic – approach. Closed as of November 2015, the mill and its assets have nonetheless remained “held in a ready-to-go state” to resume operations at any time. WestRock Co., a Virginian company that purchased both SP Fiber Holdings Inc. and the Newberg mill, is hopeful that the mills will “balance the fiber mix of [our] mill system and…diversify our product offering.” Instead of bowing to the pressure of narrowing paper industry, they instead hope to reposition the mill in order to serve the increased demand for containerboard and other popular paper products.
Finally, some mills are walking the line somewhere between tearing everything down for a fresh start and waiting for an opportune time to restart operations. The Prince Albert Pulp Mill, which closed all the way back in 2006, has remained untouched for the most part for the past 10 years. Paper Excellence, a Canadian paper company, purchased the mill in 2011, with plans of reopening by summer of 2014 as a developer of fluff pulp – a plan that remains unexecuted still. Only recently in February 2016 has there been an update that some of the redundant buildings on the site will be demolished, probably in an effort to reduce Paper Excellence’s tax burden.
Mayor Greg Dionne gives a rather discouraging description: “There are leaks, the equipment has not been serviced for years, black mold has taken over the place – it does not look pretty.” However, the equipment vital for producing pulp product and other basic operations remain intact – a silver lining in the cloud of the rough economy – both for the workers at the future operation and for the contractors who will be employed to work on the demolition project.
The fate of pulp and paper mills seems largely dependent on the outlook the owners have about the future of the industry – either they pave the way for other industries or hold onto the equipment in hopes of a reopening in the future. Whether one method pans out over another – only time will tell.