Developers who think they can take possession of the historic Grey Hosiery Mill and turn it into an economically sustainable, job-creating, people-attracting development may now come forth and prove it.
The Hendersonville City Council on Thursday agreed to turn the century-old building over to Preservation North Carolina, a non-profit organization with a track record of saving endangered historic buildings by turning them into taxpaying properties.
On a 4-1, the council authorized City Manager John Connet to enter into an agreement that would give Preservation North Carolina one year to find a developer who would build a project in the mill, saving at least the historic 1909 and 1915 parts. The council's action came after years of general discussion about the city owned building, the last remaining historic factory in Hendersonville, and after nine months of more focused work by the council to spark interest in a development.
The council did not recommend a specific use for the property. Among the uses that have been suggested by council members, developers and an appraiser are loft apartments, offices, an arts and events center, an artists' mall and a mixed use development including shops, craft beer and local wine tasting rooms and outdoor event space.
If Preservation North Carolina reaches a deal with a developer, the council would have the opportunity to vote the proposal up or down. If the council likes the idea, it would convey the property to the preservation group, which would sell it to the developer.
The council's action came on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Jerry Smith voting no.
Smith argued for moving immediately to put the mill up for sale through sealed bids, a process that he noted would allow the council to reject a bid it considered too low. The appraisal the council ordered late last year pegged the value at $600,000 as-is, assuming the availability of historic preservation tax credits, and $750,000 if the land was cleared.
Council members Jeff Miller, Steve Caraker and Ron Stephens argued that moving ahead is urgent now because state historic preservation tax credits that would make mill development more attractive financially are set to expire at the end of this year.
"If you don't do it by end of year — if don't get the tax credit — it doesn't work to preserve that building," Stephens said. "It's cheaper to bulldoze, haul it off and build a new building."
Council members also said they'd prefer that Preservation North Carolina and not the council negotiate with developers and recommend one. Mill development became an issue in the 2013 council race. Incumbent Jeff Collis suggested that Stephens and Miller would vote to give the mill to developer Jim Hall becase he supported their campaigns.
"I think the whole thing to me is an economic development project," said Caraker. "They don't know any of us, don't know any of players, they're basing their recommendation on what it can do for the of Hendersonville. ... The window is closing on the best option for this piece of property."
Council members said they would expect Connet to ask officials with the preservation group to consider proposals that developers have already brought to the council, including one for loft apartments proposed by developer Jim Hall, real estate investor Austin Fazio and a Daytona Beach developer.
Smith argued for his proposal. If the bids for the building are unacceptable, he said, the city would still have time to enter into the Preservation North Carolina agreement and apply for tax credits before they expire.
In the weeks since the City Council ordered the new appraisal of the mill, the city has received inquiries from a hotel developer, a Hendersonville partnership that wants to put a mixed-use development in the mill and one other.
Marie France LaChance and Bruce Hatfield, who attended Thursday night's council meeting, said they want to develop the mill with shops, restaurants, tasting rooms and an event space. LcChance, owner of Nonesuch House & Home décor store at 234 N. Main St., was among the people who responded to the City Council's last request for proposals. At that time she and contractor John Kennedy, the owner of Trinity Construction, described an upscale retail shopping area with dining and an event space called the Olde Mill Place. Hatfield, a retired military officer, has joined the proposed venture by LaChance and Kennedy. Hatfield said he has experience building hospitals and has done other developments. He described a mixed-use development that would include Texas-style barbecue, craft beer and local wine, shops and an event space that would become a "destination point." The mill would be developed into an entertainment, shopping and dining that would attract younger people and give tourists a reason to stay more than one day in Hendersonville, LaChance and Hatfield said.
"Downtown is more than just Main Street," LaChance said.
Here are details of the proposal that Hatfield and LaChance submitted to the city on Thursday:
"The approach is to make the Grey Hosiery Mill into a destination point for locals and visitors to Hendersonville, Henderson County and Western North Carolina," they said. "It is anticipated that visitors will spend several hours in the Mall each time they visit. It will be incorporated into the Downtown Historic District, and Revitalization of Seventh Avenue, as part of a larger venue for visitors and tourists to Hendersonville.
"A new entrance to the Mill will be in the rear with an exterior deck on either side of the center entrance. This deck will be used for outside dining. As one approaches the inside of the 'Mall' they will be greeted with a facade bearing the face plate of the antique boiler and the two grates. From this point visitors will be directed either to the left or the right as they pass through various retail vendors, displaying, and offering goods and services unique to Western North Carolina. We will feature a Texas Style BBQ Restaurant, a Craft Beer and Wine Bar featuring Local and Regional Beers and Wines from Western North Carolina. Vendor space will be leased to Local and Regional merchants, producing tax revenue for the City. The Entrances on Fourth Avenue will be used to direct visitors to the Mall Complex to the Retail portion of the Mall.
"The Mall will operate seven days a week with hours of operation from 10:00 O’clock AM to 12:00 PM Midnight Monday through Thursday. Hours of operation will be extended to 2:00 AM on weekends.
"Weekends will feature live entertainment from various local and regional musicians playing Bluegrass, Country Western, Celtic and other musical venues. These concerts will be centered in one specific section of the Mall. This area also serves as an Event Center which may be used for other performances such as Wedding Receptions, Corporate Meetings and other Artistic Performances.
"This approach to Re-Purposing Old Mills has been proven successful in places such as the Ola Podrida in Dallas, Texas; the Music Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina; and the Urban Brew and BBQ in St. Petersburg, Florida.
"Full and Part Time employment will be offered through the On Site Mall Management, Maintenance, Security, along with employment offered by the Retail, Entertainment, and Restaurant Companies that have leased space. This employment will result in job creation for local residents, and generation of sales, property and income tax revenue to the City of Hendersonville."