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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Mill revitalization is worth celebrating

Construction signs were up and workers were on site at the historic Grey Hosiery Mill on Monday morning. As unremarkable as it looked, the magnitude of what had happened over the past 72 hours is impossible to overstate. This was big.

Barring a train wreck or financial collapse or act of an angry God, the historic mill was taking the first step to rebirth.
The city announced with admirable brevity and modesty on Friday afternoon that the city and the developer had consummated the agreement that should result in the preservation and renovation of the old mill for 36 apartments.
“As of this afternoon, all property associated with the Grey Hosiery Mill has been transferred to Grey Mill Ventures LLC,” the city said in a news release. “All project financing has been secured and received and all building permits have been obtained.”
Although the deal with developer Belmont Sayer had been in the works for going on two years, that doesn’t tell the half of it. The city has owned the property since 1990, so the journey to the moment on Friday when parties dotted the last i and crossed the last t ended an almost 30-year quest.
“I sent text messages around (on Friday) saying basically I never thought I’d live long enough to see it happen and the good money was on me losing,” Councilman Steve Caraker said Tuesday.
Although Mayor Barbara Volk and mayor pro tem Ron Stephens were serving on the council before Caraker came aboard and have been strong supporters of the mill renovation, no one has fought harder in the trenches than Caraker, nor pushed for the project as a means to a greater end.
Caraker, who owns a historic home in the West Side Historic District, chaired the city’s Historic Preservation Commission before he joined the council. Along with the Grey Mill project, he also has advocated strongly for revitalization of the Historic Seventh Avenue District. By some time next year 36 new loft apartments will be occupied by couples, families or singles, bringing new life to Grove Street and, it is hoped, Seventh Avenue.
There are several possible explanations for the absence of a larger celebration on Friday. City council members would understandably feel oft-burned twice shy given the project’s history. Efforts for a hotel on the site fizzled. In December 2017, the city was within hours of losing federal tax credits for historic property renovations; only direct intervention by U.S. Mark Meadows saved them. The 35-day government shutdown ending Jan. 25 delayed federal approvals needed for the closing. Even now, no one can say for sure that that train wreck or act of God won’t derail the project.
It’s little wonder the hoorahs have been muted.
That the project is under way now is a positive sign for downtown, Seventh Avenue and historic Hendersonville broadly. Although the good money may have been on failure, this time the winner was the worthy cause of preserving our history in a tangible way.