Belledeau cannery property divided, sold

Remaining buildings, land now ‘barns and pasture’

After about a decade of hoping that some company would breathe new life into the old cannery in Belledeau, it appears that door is permanently closed.

The last piece of property housing the sweet potato cannery has been divided into three parcels and sold.

Each piece sold for approximately $66,666, for a total purchase price of $200,000.

“We will just be using it for storage to support our agricultural operations,” Shane Descant said. “The way they left it, that’s really all it could be used for.”

Descant’s “Slice of Paradise” farming operation was joined by Jeffrey Lacombe’s Lacombe Farms and his brother, Joshua Lacombe, in purchasing the last remaining property of the closed cannery.

“I’m just going to use it as a hay barn and a place to park my tractors,” Jeffrey Lacombe said. “It is really only usable as a storage facility for something that’s not too valuable. You wouldn’t want to put anything of value out there.”

Descant and Jeffrey Lacombe purchased 258 undeveloped acres behind the cannery under the name of Cenla Farms from Allen Canning after the plant closed but before the company went bankrupt.

“We subdivided that into two parts with each of us having half,” Descant said.

Allen held on to the closed plant for many years before Sager Creek bought it in bankruptcy proceedings in 2014.

Sager Creek ran into financial problems of its own, selling out to Del Monte in 2015.

“Del Monte contacted us and asked if we would be interested in buying the buildings,” Descant said.

With no public notice or fanfare, Del Monte sold the four buildings and 30-plus acres to the three agricultural operations in March 2016.

Joshua Lacombe purchased the western half of the large building and some pasture land behind it.

Descant’s Slice of Paradise LLC, an agricultural operation based in Alexandria, purchased the east half of the building and some undeveloped acreage behind it.

The third portion was purchased by Lacombe Farms, which bought a small building near the railroad track and about 13.7 acres of open land.

Not that it matters to Avoyelles Parish now, but Del Monte just sold its remaining Sager Creek properties to McCall Farms vegetables in South Carolina. That will be the former Allen’s properties’ and brand products' fourth owner in four years -- Allen, Sager Creek, Del Monte and McCall.

HOPES AFTER CLOSING

The cannery had many names during its years of operation -- including Princeville, Joan of Arc, Pillsbury and Allen.

In the years after the plant closed, Allen sold most of the undeveloped land to Cenla Farms for agricultural use.

Even then, dreamers held out hope that a new business -- possibly in the field of warehousing or transportation -- might locate there. The buildings remained intact to the passerby, tantalizing state and parish officials to think about what could be, but never would.

It had been the object of interest over the years of some potential tenants because of the railroad spur that still goes through the site, which economic development experts said was “worth its weight in gold” to a manufacturing company.

Environmental concerns and the cost of converting the old cannery for other purposes always kept those possibilities from materializing.

It seemed destined for nothing more than gathering dust and rust.

Avoyelles Tax Assessor Heath Pastor was one of the few people not directly involved in the land deal who knew the plant’s ownership had once again changed hands.

“It is basically a pasture and barn operation,” Pastor said.

“The prospective buyers asked me to go out there to tell them what their potential tax liability would be if they bought the property,”
Pastor continued. “They are mostly baling hay and farming the property. It is purely agricultural -- not commercial industrial.”

That was good news for the Lacombes and Descant -- not so good for those governing agencies dependent on property taxes to support their operations.

“When Allen was in operation in 2008, it paid $132,500 in property taxes just for its equipment and inventory,” Pastor said. “That doesn’t count the tax paid for its acreage and buildings.”

In 2015, Sager Creek paid $21,371 in property tax for the inactive, vacant commercial property. Allen was paying about that in the years after it closed the plant.

After the remaining property was split up and sold for agricultural use, the combined taxes paid for that site totaled $629 in 2017.

Yes, a vacant piece of abandoned commercial property doing nothing is worth significantly more in taxes than productive farmland.

NEW OWNER'S DREAMS

Descant said much of the machinery was sold for scrap, wiring had been pulled and stripped for its copper content and the buildings were little more than empty hulls when the trio accepted Del Monte’s offer.

“They took a lot of its potential away when they scrapped all the iron in it,” he said of the plant’s previous owners. “The railroad spur added a lot to the property’s potential, but the way it was left would be cost-ineffective to do anything more than what we plan to do -- use it for storage purposes.”

He said that is probably why Del Monte elected to sell the property rather than attempt to restore it to commercial use.

Descant said any industry wanting to take advantage of the site’s rail access would have had to tear down all the buildings, clean up the site and build a plant from the ground up.

“We will be using that area for cattle grazing, raising crawfish and recreational hunting,” Descant said.

Joshua Lacombe was out-of-state on a job at the time of this interview and could not be reached for his comments.

Jeffrey Lacombe said the property comes with some problems other than the condition of the buildings.

“People are always going in there,” Lacombe said. “I was out there the other day, and someone just drove in. I have caught people out there smoking dope.

“People jump off the trains all the time,” he continued. “I caught six of them just sitting in there on a Sunday night.”

Lacombe said he always has his gun with him when he goes to the site “because you can never tell what you might face.”

With more obvious activity and signs of life around the long-closed plant, it is hoped that it will no longer be seen as a “roadside inn” for hoboes or a secluded spot for a pot party.

When Allen sold the acreage to Cenla Farms, Lacombe said a company representative told him and Descant “to be careful about the people out here. He said, ‘We’re a multi-million dollar company, and they put us out of business.’”

Lacombe said he’s not worried about the neighbors, and not too concerned about the neighborhood -- even with the hoboes and pot smokers.

He said it is a good place to store hay, park his tractor and support his farming operations on the acreage that once supported a multi-million dollar canning operation.

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