LEAKESVILLE, Miss. (WKRG) – The landscape of Leakesville will be changed for good when a decades-old factory is demolished next month, but leaders hope a new development will fill the footprint.

The bid for the demolition of what locals mostly know as the “old factory building” on Main Street was awarded this week to Southern Recycling and Demolition of D’Iberville for $419,000. 

It marks the end of debate on what to do with the building that remained constant as local leaders came and went through at least four election cycles.

Basila Manufacturing opened in 1946 by Basil and Frances Basila. The couple moved to Leakesville from Washington, D.C. to open the garment factory after Basil retired from the Army. The opening was supported by a state bill to spur industry after the Great Depression and World War II.

The 127,000 square foot plant was sold in 1973. It later housed a guitar manufacturing plant and then a furniture company before largely sitting empty for the past 13 years.

Since 2009, many ideas for the plant have been entertained. At one time, it may have been outfitted as a training center for homeless veterans to learn new trades, served as a juvenile detention facility, converted to a retail shopping center, or sold to private investors.

Nothing ever panned out. The building continued to be an eyesore for many county leaders while it brought no tax revenue and the county, or the Town of Leakesville at one time during a lease agreement, continued to pay the insurance and utilities on the building.

When Danny Box was hired as the county’s economic development director in January 2021, he was tasked with advising the board of supervisors on the factory’s future.

“It was obvious to me from the first step inside of it that it was in a condition that just needed to be demolished. It had been let go,” Box said. “But if it was even in good condition, it was difficult to market. We were going to have to find somebody that needed that very specific kind of building.”

Walk-throughs of the building found, in part, asbestos needing to be removed and the deteriorating roof worsened after Hurricane Zeta in October 2020.

Once the decision to demolish was informally reached, the county needed to find funding. In April, the governor signed a bill netting $600,000 to the county to help cover the demolition costs.

County supervisors contracted in September with Pickering Firm of Biloxi to perform the pre-engineering and oversee the demolition. Southern Recycling and Demolition of D’Iberville was awarded the bid Dec. 19 to demolish.

The $419,000 bid was lower than anticipated but added costs will also be added to pay the engineers and repair any damage to roads and utilities and address any other issues during demolition.

A pre-demolition meeting is scheduled for mid-January with the work expected to begin soon after.

“It’s pretty much unanimous that it needs to go, that it will improve the aesthetics of the town. There’s just not any real opposition to that, so I think it’s gonna be a real positive thing,” Box said.

There’s no decision on what will be done with the lot once it is vacant. Box wants to conduct listening sessions and engage people in the county to form a vision and future plan for the site.

Another $600,000 is supposed to be added to county coffers after an earmark added by Mississippi’s congressional delegation to the $1.7 trillion federal omnibus spending bill passed Friday. The supervisors hope it can be used to develop the site for future economic activity.

“I hope we can develop a shared vision. I want to learn what the public would like to see there. I want to give consideration to some of the needs in the county and how that site might be able to be used to meet those needs,” Box said.

Workers of the Basila Manufacturing factory in Leakesville during the 1950s. (Courtesy: Miss. Department of Archives & History)

History of the “Old Factory”

Information collected from the Greene County Historical Museum and archives of the Greene County Herald

1946 – Basila family moved to Leakesville to open the garment factory. It provided unique economic opportunities, particularly for women, in Greene County after World War II.

1973 – Basilas sell factory.

August 1996 –  Ribbon-cutting held for Peavey Electronics, attended by Eddie Van Halen. The signature product of the factory was Van Halen’s “Wolfgang” guitar.

2003 – Peavey Electronics vacated the building. The company began outsourcing much of its manufacturing outside of the U.S.

September 2003 – Value Line, Inc. announced it would relocate from Arkansas and move into the factory during a ceremony attended by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. It promised 125 good-paying jobs. In exchange, the county did not charge the company rent.

February 2009 – Value Line legally evicted after months of county supervisors asking company president Hal Kidd to vacate the building. At the time of the eviction, the county said the company had less than a dozen employees and did not perform needed maintenance on the building.

July 2011 – Board of Supervisors explores the potential of a training facility to teach homeless veterans skilled trades with Jones Jr. College and Greene County Vo-Tech.

June 2012 – Supervisors approve a corrections officer to do a walkthrough of the building to examine potential for a juvenile detention center.

October 2012 – County solicits bids for sale or lease of the factory. No bids are sent.

November 2012 – Abandoned property in the building is sold off.

2013 – No concrete offers made after request for bids.

April 2015 – County announces it will again solicit proposals to sell or lease the building.

June 2015 –  Habitat for Humanity says it is interested in opening a ReStore in the old factory, in-line with Leakesville Mayor George Perkins’ vision to open a retail shopping center in the building with an anchor like a discount or grocery store. 

March 2018 –  Town leases building from county for $7,500 per year to pursue revitalization and retail development. Other proposals rejected by the board included $20,120 from L&D Scrap of Laurel to tear down the building for the raw material and  $65,051 from Al and Jolean Roberts to tear down the center and build the two remaining parts into businesses. Wayne County developer Arthur Sturdivant withdrew an offer of $151,200 to purchase the building and land after he said he felt tension and indecisiveness from the supervisors.

July 2019 – County looked into grant funding to renovate the factory.

March 2021 – Town of Leakesville and Greene County agree to end 12-year lease agreement.

May 2021 – County looks into state grant funding to fund economic development at the site.

February 2022 – Water tower and dust suppression system sold and removed from the site.

April 2022 – County receives $600,000 in allocation from state legislature to move forward with demolition.

September 2022 – County contracts with Pickering Firm to oversee the demolition process.

December 2022 – Bid awarded to Southern Recycling and Demolition of D’Iberville for asbestos abatement and demolition

December 2022 – $600,000 allocated to Greene County in federal spending bill for “demolition and rehabilitation” of the factory.