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Deadline looms for challengers to upset NoDa mills low bidder

A trio of local companies has until Monday to submit upset bids for two historic Charlotte mills the city put up for sale last month.

Earlier this week The Community Builders Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based affordable-housing developer, put in a winning bid of $610,000 for Johnston and Mecklenburg Mills, just north of uptown in the NoDa neighborhood.

Rob Fossi, TCB vice president, said part of the company’s development plans including building work force housing within the two mill buildings designed for middle-income families. Fossi said plans call for developing the site in partnership with the neighborhood and city officials.

Fossi said TCB is the largest urban affordable-housing developer in the country and Charlotte is an area of “considerable interest” for the company.

“This would be an important first step for us in Charlotte,” he said. “It’s a place where we think we can be a great contributor and stakeholder. The market dynamics and opportunities to partner in Charlotte are particularly appealing.”

TCB’s only North Carolina project is a Hope VI development in Durham.

The two massive and vacant brick buildings were built in the late 1800s during the heyday of the textile industry. After the neighborhood’s textile mills shut down in the early to mid-1970s, they were converted to affordable housing in the early 1990s, said Peter Zeiler, Charlotte’s transit station area development coordinator.

Between 1990 and 2004 the city invested about $6.3 million to rehabilitate the buildings, but in 2006 the project went bankrupt and Charlotte took possession of the buildings, Zeiler said. The city selected Tuscan Development to turn the old mills into a mixed-use development including low-income housing in 2007, but the deal fell through in late 2008 because of the complexity of the project and the lagging economy, Zeiler said. The city put the two mills up for sale last month, with the goal of developing a mixed-use project with at least 20 percent of the residential units dedicated to low-income families, Zeiler said.

Another company that put in a bid for the mills is Merrifield Patrick Vermillion. Managing partner Jim Merrifield wouldn’t comment on if the company plans to submit an upset bid but said the development plans they submitted to the city were consistent with the city’s requirements to preserve the existing buildings and include an affordable-housing component.

“It would be our intention to do a very nice renovation and maintain the existing structures,” he said.

Merrifield said the company’s vision for the mills is comparable to Alpha Mill, a former cotton mill that’s been converted to a NoDa apartment community with courtyard and rooftop terrace.

Noah Lazes, president of Ark Management, another company that bid for the mills, said he submitted an upset bid earlier this week. Ark developed the N.C. Music Factory, a cluster of old mills that were converted into a mixed-use entertainment complex.

Lazes said if Ark submits the winning bid, he plans to maintain the historic integrity of the mills like he did at the Music Factory, while adding retail space, art studios and work force and low-income housing.

“We’re not going to try to create $500,000 condominiums,” he said. “We don’t think that’s where the market is. It will be designed for the young professional who wants to live in a cool, artsy area in a building that has character and historic integrity.”

The third bidder for the mills is M&J, a partnership involving Conformity Corp., Argos Real Estate Advisors, Belmont Sayre, Aptus Management and The Benoit Group. Monte Ritchey, a member of M&J and owner of Conformity Corp., said the company would likely submit an upset bid by the Monday deadline. The company’s plans for the mills include mixed-income housing, along with a few developments that “deviate from the minimums required by the city,” Ritchey said.

Fossi said he is waiting to see what kind of upset bids are submitted. He wouldn’t say if TCB would also submit another bid for the mills.

“But we are keenly interested in this opportunity and are garnering all of our resources in order to be the redeveloper of this property,” he said.

Sam Boykin can be reached at sam.boykin@mecktimes.com.

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