The Johns-Manville plant was mentioned during last week’s summit as a project the Denison Development Alliance has made a priority for the upcoming year. DDA President Tony Kaai said the project has been ongoing for nearly 30 years, and there have been some strides made that put a deal closer than ever before.


The facility sits north of Denison along U.S. Highway 75. The 400,000 square foot of buildings have been on the DDA’s radar for three decades. However, Kaai said there have been some difficult issues making it a challenge to work out a deal.


“The last two years it’s been a very engaging process,” Kaai said in a phone interview. “The 18 years prior to that it was a really slow, non-responsive dialog. Occasionally we could write letters trying to get the discussion open. It would get going for a while then it would go dark. We kept on it. I’ve been on it for almost 20 years. We’ve had people working on it since before it closed even when it was announced it was going to close.”


Kaai said the DDA has been attempting to purchase the property so it could move forward with brokering a deal to revamp the 400 acres into a new industrial park for the city.


The plant previously had been a major employer in the city. Current Denison Mayor Janet Gott is among those Denison residents who had worked at the plant before it closed. The first issue Kaai said is the fact they manufacture concrete pipes is an issue. The concrete was mixed with asbestos during the manufacturing process which causes some considerable environmental concerns that both sides are finding difficult to overcome.


Kaai said fortunately the asbestos is not friable, or the breakaway type that can become airborne but he still presents a hazard that must be handled within the strictest government regulations.


The second challenge he said facing the project is the landscape. Although it is 400 acres of land, only about 200 of that land is usable due to its location in the flood zone. Kaai said it would still be a considerable gain for the city to develop that property despite those hurdles.


The negotiations are moving forward for the first time in ages. Kaai said he doesn’t want to say a deal is on the horizon just yet, it could be 90 days or it could be years. Right now, he is optimistic about the future as those negotiations have not bore much fruit until recently.


“We’re at a point where we’ve never been before,” Kaai said. “Our discussion with them, our relationship is a good point we’ve never seen in the 20 years I’ve been here. The point we’re both at is they have certain risks and we have certain risks and its complicated. We have to find a way that’s a win-win for both parties. We understand their concerns and they understand ours. Getting it written down is a long process. Everybody is working together and everything is positive.”


Kaai said the plan would entail removing all of the existing buildings to make way for a new industrial park. He said it is prime real estate as it has the infrastructure to meet the city’s needs with it having on and off ramps for U.S. Highway 75 and the sheer size of the property. While nothing is official at this time he said he is optimistic with the way discussions are moving along.


Do you know anyone who worked at the JM Plant? Let Denison area reporter Richard A. Todd know by sending email to rtodd@heralddemocrat.com. He can also be reached on Facebook and Twitter @RichardAToddHD.