NODA – A Boston-based nonprofit developer is planning to start renovations on a historic textile mill within a month, after a years-long effort by the city of Charlotte to convert the building into affordable apartments.
Built in 1903, Mecklenburg Mill, in the North Davidson neighborhood of Charlotte, comes with historic requirements that have presented a challenge for the nonprofit developer, The Community Builders.
Rosa Estrada, project manager with TCB, said site work for the mill project is in its third cycle of permit approval and should be issued any time. The building permit for the mill renovation is in its second cycle and should be issued before the end of the month, allowing construction to start, she said. The general contractor on the project is NorSouth Constructs, based in Savannah, Ga. The company also has an office in Charlotte.
Estrada said the construction timeline on Mecklenburg Mill, which is to be converted into a $12 million, 48-unit affordable housing apartment complex, is tentatively set for a year. If all goes to plan, she said tenants could be moving into the building by this time next year.
“We’re closing on the constructing financing and we would start construction as soon as we can get the permitting,” she said.
The 48 units to be inserted at the mill will range in square footage from 428 for the smallest studio to 1,216 for larger two-bedroom units, Estrada said. There isn’t any word yet on what rents are likely to be.
But Mecklenburg Mill is just the first phase of three that TCB is hoping to complete in NoDa.
Phase two is the renovation at Johnston Mill, which is adjacent to Mecklenburg Mill. The developers aren’t sure what Johnston Mill will look like in its final form, but it will include a residential portion and possibly a retail component, Estrada said.
TCB expects to finalize financing for Johnston Mill in mid-to-late 2014, paving the way for a late 2014 start date on the project.
Plans for phase three of the project are vague, as that portion, which will be new construction, won’t start until the Charlotte Area Transit System finishes work in NoDa on the Blue Line light rail extension. It will have street-level retail on 36th Street and likely have some residential units above the storefronts.
But before TCB can get to the final phase, the company has to finish Mecklenburg Mill, which has been an odyssey for the city of Charlotte.
Mecklenburg Mill and Johnston Mill – a cotton mill built in 1916 – were important to the booming textile industry in NoDa in the first half of the 20th Century. The latter half of that century wasn’t as kind, as Mecklenburg Mill closed in the late 1960s and Johnston Mill closed in 1975, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. After their closings, the mills were left to fall into disrepair.
Between 1990 and 2004, the city gave millions of dollars to the now-defunct Trenton Properties to renovate the mills, according to city documents. Trenton later declared bankruptcy, and the city took possession of the mills after foreclosing on the property.
Stewart Gray, preservation planner for the landmarks commission, said tenants were forced out by the city in 2006.
“We went in after it had been vacated and it was obvious there were structural problems with the building,” said Stewart Gray, preservation planner for the landmarks commission.
The city in 2007 called for redevelopment proposals, which Gray said proved less than fruitful. But in 2011 – after more proposals – TCB was selected to bring a viable affordable-housing option to the mills and paid $1.2 million for both Mecklenburg and Johnston mills. The developer has since been working with the landmarks commission on design review to ensure the historic character of the mills remains.
“Because Mecklenburg Mill and Johnston Mill are historic landmarks, anytime the owner wants to make a material change to the property, they have to go through the landmarks commission and we have to approve those changes,” Gray said.
The changes that have to be approved by the commission are anything from masonry and façade work to replacing the windows, which Estrada said has proven to be one of the biggest challenges in the design-review phase.
“The windows were very challenging,” she said. “We literally had to match to windows from a very fuzzy historic picture.”
Estrada said the landmarks commission had strict sound-proofing requirements for the windows at the mills, which made it hard to find windows matching that description and retaining the historic look.
“While trying to meet the interior noise-level requirements and maintaining the historic profile, it was a balancing act between design and production,” she said. “These are not the windows you buy off the shelf.”
But Gray said it hasn’t been much of a problem working with TCB in the design-review phase, adding that since the mills had previously been converted to apartments – converting the space into apartments by adding interior partitions – it made the job a touch easier for the new developer.
What wasn’t easy for TCB was last October asking the Charlotte City Council for $2.3 million from the city to help with the rehabilitation. At the time, officials with the development company said the condition of the mills was more desperate than they first realized.
The council balked at the $2.3 million figure, but ended up giving $1.25 million to TCB in a 9-2 vote in October, with supporters saying the money was necessary to develop workforce housing in the mills.
In contrast to Section 8 housing or other federal aid programs, workforce housing is built to be affordable by families making 60 percent of the area median income, which for a family of four in Mecklenburg County is $68,500, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
TCB spokeswoman Stephanie Garrett said that while it’s been a bit of a process to get moving on the Mecklenburg Mill redevelopment project, this type of work isn’t new for the company.
“We’ve done a lot of historic work and our mission in all 15 states we work in is mixed-income housing development,” she said. “When we have the opportunity to introduce workforce housing, that fits right into the mission that we’re carrying out in 15 states.”