uses sought for land
as tobacco industry wanes
(February 2004) Not far from downtown Carrollton, Ky., on
Hwy. 42 is a vacant lot where just three months ago stood a piece
of the towns history.
Tobacco warehouses Brite Lite Nos. 1 and 2 occupied the spot where
area tobacco farmers once gathered to seek the highest bid for their
annual crop. The last auction took place there three years ago.
The warehouses, owned by Don Taylor, W.R. Greene and Bill Dugan, were
razed last November. Now for sale is the 4.6-acre lot, marketed by
Welty Realty with assistance from the Carroll County Community Development
Corporation. The property is zoned commercial and lends itself to
many different uses, said CCCDC executive director Joey Graves.
Like Brite Lite Nos. 1 and 2, many of Carrolltons once flourishing
tobacco warehouses have outlasted their intended purpose. Most have
been closed or redeveloped. Of the 18 that still stand, only one,
Golden Burley at 409 11th St., maintains active sales.
Decline of the auction
The trend, typical of Kentuckys burley belt where more than
half of the tobacco warehouses have closed in the past three years,
says much about a change in the way tobacco is now marketed. Only
about 25 percent of the states farmers still take their crop
to auction, according to Donna Graves, executive director of the Burley
Marketing Association in Lexington, Ky. The majority of farmers now
take out direct contract with major tobacco companies, such as Philip
Morris, Brown & Williamson, and Southwestern.
As a result, cities like Carrollton that were once thriving tobacco
trade centers have all but given up the ghost of the tobacco auction.
I have lived here all my life, and my family was connected with
the tobacco industry, so I have seen quite a change said Carrollton
Mayor Ann Deatherage. I know that each warehouse at one point
had a sale every day. You couldnt find a place (downtown) to
park, she recalled.
by Don Ward
Brite Lite Nos. 1 and 2 warehouses come down during demolition
The large concentration of Carrolltons tobacco warehouses,
mostly downtown, is a testament to the countys burley heritage.
Carrollton was a trade place, said Carroll County agricultural
and natural resources extension agent Tim Hendrick. You brought
your crop in, traded at local stores, bought your sundries and materials
and some of your food stuff, and probably did most of your banking
Tobacco, in addition to beef cattle, still dominates the countys
farming enterprises, according to the University of Kentuckys
College of Agriculture. But while tobacco remains an important part
of the countys economy, a shift in the way the crop is marketed
has affected the number of operating warehouses. During the 2001-02
tobacco marketing season, 80 auction warehouses operated statewide.
By 2003-04, that number had dropped by more than half, to 35.
to contract sales
The trend toward contracting began in 2000, when Philip Morris introduced
its pilot Tobacco Farmer Partnering Program. The reason, said Graves,
was that the companies wanted specific quality and specific
grades that they could buy direct from the farmers.
Now all major companies contract with farmers.
Contracting, unlike auctions, guarantees a buyer considered
a plus for most farmers. The downside, according to Graves, is that
a buyer is the only guarantee. There are no price supports on
contracts, she said. Conversely, co-ops, like the BMA, set price
supports for particular grades and guarantee a minimum price, Graves
Still, the farmers who contract typically receive more for their crops
than those who auction. They give up price support, but they
receive a better price for their tobacco and dont have some
of the fees that would come from going to auction at a warehouse,
With fewer farmers going to auction, fewer warehouses are needed.
In Shelby County, which once competed with Carroll for area tobacco
trade, most of the tobacco warehouses have also closed. Only one,
Growers, still operates.
I stayed in business one year after they started contracting,
and I saw pretty quick that there wasnt a way to compete with
them, said Jimmy Chappell, whose Big Shelby Tobacco Warehouse
in Shelbyville closed in 2000. On his 150-acre farm in Shelby County,
Chappell still raises tobacco, which he now contracts to Burley Service
Inc., a representative of Philip Morris.
courtesy Jim Fothergill
photo was taken in 1976 at the Henry County Tobacco Warehouse,
which once stood in Carrollton. It burned in 1984.
As the number of active auctions continues to decline, warehouse
owners are seeking other uses for their buildings. Some have been
renovated, like the former R.M. Barker Tobacco Co., located at 671
11th St. in Carrollton. The 20,000 square-foot brick building is now
owned by Vernon States, who purchased it a year and a half ago. States
uses a portion to house his rental and construction businesses, States
Inc. The rest is available for lease. States said the building, mostly
open, could potentially house fabrication, warehousing, construction
contracting or similar businesses.
Other warehouses, like Brite Lite Nos. 1 and 2, have simply been torn
down. According to Chappell, the Big Shelby Warehouse, because of
its construction, probably faces a similar fate. Now for sale, the
large warehouse contains under roof 2.5 acres but has limited potential
because of its construction.
Theres not much we can do with it that I know of,
said Chappell. He noted that the wooden floor lacks the strength for
heavy machinery that might be used in a different kind of warehouse,
like Independent No. 2 in Maysville that will soon house manufacturing
companies related to the food and automobile industries.
Most of the tobacco warehouses in Carrollton are similar in construction
to the Big Shelby Warehouse: metal, with wooden floors and no heating
or cooling systems. They are basically, according to Hendrick, unimproved,
But centered downtown along Polk Street, the location of many of the
warehouses presents several options. Moderate housing is one. Some
of these areas would be excellent as far as patio homes, apartment
houses and developments, said Mayor Deatherage. Small businesses,
like retail shops, are others. I would love to see the buildings
downtown filled, she said.
Because of the age of many of these structures, environmental concerns
like lead paint and other hazardous materials have discouraged development.
To address the issue, the Kentucky General Assembly passed in 2002
legislation to help return tobacco warehouses and other contaminated
areas back to productive use. The Targeted Brownfields Site Assessment
Program was established to assist in determining the extent of contamination
and what should be cleaned up prior to reuse. Brownfields are properties
with real or suspected environmental contamination, according to the
Statewide burley tobacco production
203.8 million lbs. (est.) (Kentucky Agricultural Statistics
According to the KASS, total belt-wide auction sales through
December 2003 totaled $45,624, 960 pounds, averaging $196.40
per cwt. Total contract sales totaled 147,525,986 pounds, averaging
$198.85 per cwt.
or Current Owner; Address; Type of Construction; Known Use or
Growers, 3354 Hwy. 42 E. Masonry, Receiving Station
Kentuckiana, 514 Park Ave., Steel, Receiving Station
Melvin Lyons, Schurman Ave., Steel
Big Burley, 612 Seventh St., Brick/Steel, Steel portion
to be dismantled
Big Burley #2, 810 Polk St., Steel, Auction House
S&H Storage, 11th St., Steel
Craig, Polk St., Steel, Willhoite Garage in portion
Eugene Pennington, 1020 Polk St., Steel
Golden Burley, 409 11th St., Steel, Active Sales
Vernon States, 11th St., Brick, RemodeledWarehouse/Rental
Kemper, Steel, Poor condition
Jerry Stafford, Clay St., Steel
Mary Greenrose, 915 Polk St., Masonry
Golden Burley LLC, Polk St., Brick, Tobacco Storage
Kemper, 11th St., Steel, Large truck repair
Craig, 805 Polk St., Steel
Johnson & Harris, Steel, Apartments (2)
Golden Burley, Polk & Sixth St., Masonry, Tobacco
Source: Joseph Graves, CCCDC
Program coordinator Herb Petitjean said that many tobacco warehouses
could be eligible for the program. And while limited in funding, the
TBA does provide some guidance for persons attempting to develop Brownfields
properties, Petitjean said.
Programs like TBA could help bring new life to some warehouses. That
would be great, said lifetime Carroll County resident and realtor
Jim Fothergill, whose brother-in-law owned the Marshall-Harris Henry
County tobacco warehouse that burned in 1984. Fothergill admitted
a sense of sadness to see the wane of the tobacco auction, but said
he would like to see the warehouses used for something else. Otherwise,
through the years they will just deteriorate and be an eyesore
for the community, he said.
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