BARBERTON: Though it’s far from bustling, there’s some life in that big old tire plant.
“I didn’t think anyone was in here,” said Esau Sims, 79, who built the last tire at the Seiberling Tire & Rubber Co. plant before it closed in 1980, tossing about 1,000 people out of work.
Sims, who lives in Barberton, was among a group of retirees and onetime Seiberling workers who recently toured the sprawling facility on 15th Street Northwest after learning that it was no longer essentially abandoned.
The owner of the office/plant complex, totaling roughly 400,000 square feet of space, is now Barberton Community Development Corp. and this group has ambitious plans.
Founded in 1985 as the city tried to recover from manufacturing job losses, Barberton Community Development has spent nearly $1 million fixing up the place and is busy marketing it to new users.
Already, three tenants are leasing a total of 130,000 square feet for warehousing and distribution.
Together, the tenants don’t employ a lot of people — roughly 12.
Scott Wagner, executive director of Barberton Community Development, pointed out that some of the jobs are relatively high-paying. And he has high hopes.
“There could easily be 250 jobs in three to five years,” he said.
“Just the fact that we cleaned up that property and created some jobs … that’s a positive,” Wagner said. “There’s nobody else stepping up.”
Shortly before his group took ownership, he said, “There wasn’t one door locked in the entire place.”
Making rubber history
The site had been an industrial mainstay for decades.
F.A. Seiberling, founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., first launched tire operations there in 1921, using a site that had been used by the old Portage Rubber Co.
Seiberling Tire grew to be a major U.S. tire manufacturer and for years was one of the industrial city of Barberton’s largest employers. The company was eventually acquired for $15 million by Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1965. Seiberling once ranked seventh in U.S. tire sales.
The plant closing came amid other mass layoffs and shutdowns in the recession of the early 1980s. Still, it caught workers by surprise.
Joe Pasternak, 83, a Barberton resident and one of the retirees on the tour, recalled that he heard of the closing on the radio.
He figures he was being paid roughly $9 an hour when he lost his passenger tire building job in 1980. Adjusted for inflation, his hourly pay then is the equivalent of more than $20 today.
After the shutdown it took Pasternak a while to find steady employment. Eventually, he got a job as a maintenance worker for Barberton City Schools.
Pasternak and Herman Gardner, 89, of Norton, also on the tour, were happy to learn of Barberton Community Development Corp.’s plans for the place where they had spent so much of their lives.
Gardner said, “I just hope they can get it rented for more than just a warehouse.”
He worked at the plant for 38 years, making tires for trucks and earthmoving equipment, save for during World War II, when he was assigned to pontoon boats.
“The girls built them and I tested them,” Gardner said, referring to women who filled job vacancies during wartime. He explained he would fill the boats with air at a specific pressure and check them the next morning.
Don Slack, 86, of Clinton and also on the tour, was power house supervisor when the plant closed.
“At least there’s some activity,” said Slack, who eventually went to work for Firestone and spent 16 years at a Firestone plant in Venezuela before retiring.
“I’d rather see that than having it torn down,” Slack said. “It’s sad to see the old Portage Rubber building torn down and the power house torn down.”
Sold by B&C
An affiliate of Barberton Community Development last year bought the factory and office complex for $700,000 from the privately owned B&C Industries.
B&C, which had shut down manufacturing operations there, had acquired the property shortly after the Seiberling operations ceased in 1980.
As is typical with economic redevelopment projects, there were many players involved.
Barberton Community Development snagged a $700,000 grant from the Barberton Community Foundation to pay for the purchase.
The foundation was created in 1996 when the city-owned Barberton Citizens Hospital was sold to a former for-profit hospital chain. The proceeds created the community foundation. Summa Health System now owns the hospital.
The state of Ohio chipped in a $289,312 Clean Ohio grant to pay for an environmental assessment involving old, underground storage tanks on the property.
Wagner said a key to the redevelopment was securing a long-term lease with Continental Carbon of Houston, maker of carbon black, a prime ingredient in tires. Continental Carbon uses 45,000 square feet at the facility, as well as a rail spur and large silo on the property, for its storage/distribution operation.
That lease, Wagner explained, allowed him to get a $1 million loan for repairs and improvements to the property. A big chunk of that money was spent on roof repairs.
The other tenants are Buckeye Polymers Inc., a Medina County company that recycles polymers and compounds them for the automotive and other industries; and K&K Services Inc., also headquartered in Medina, which offers pallet recycling, among other services. Buckeye Polymers has leased nearly 57,000 square feet and K&K Services has leased about 10,000 square feet.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.