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McCrory administration helps transform historic mill into urban apartments in Winston-Salem

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 12:00am

A century-old textile mill in Winston-Salem is being transformed into loft apartments, thanks to collaboration between North Carolina entrepreneurs and Brownfields program staff with Governor Pat McCrory’s administration.

Just six blocks from downtown Winston-Salem, Mill 800 opened for business in April and has since leased roughly half of the 170 available apartments.

The $35 million project represents the most recent success story from the state Brownfields program, which enables the cleanup of previously contaminated property so it can be safely used again.

“Everyone can see the benefits of taking something old and reusing it rather than tearing it down,” says Bruce Nicholson, the state’s Brownfields program manager. “Anytime you do an adaptive reuse of a property it’s pretty exciting.”

Chatham Mill Ventures, LLC, of Raleigh, purchased the property and started working on the project in 2011. The red brick buildings on the site had been empty and dilapidated after years of neglect. Owners Jerry Deakle and Ken Reiter saw potential for converting the property into urban apartments.       

“People want to live where they work,” Deakle says. “When you look at the renaissance of downtown Raleigh, it has become quite a destination. You’ve got restaurants, shopping, their work is there and they can live in an urban, non-traditional setting. The same thing is happening in Winston-Salem. People are really excited about being downtown and being able to say, ‘I’m living in something that’s 108 years old.’”

The Chatham Manufacturing Company opened the mill in 1907 and for three decades made woolen blankets. World War II supplies were made there as were computers, electronics and synthetic textiles. The property is now on Winston-Salem’s and the National Parks Services’ registries of historic places.

When Deakle and Reiter started exploring the property several years ago, they saw an opportunity. Both men had successfully redeveloped other contaminated properties through the state Brownfields program.

Brownfields agreements enable a prospective developer to redevelop the property without being liable for contamination they did not cause. Years of manufacturing activity had left behind contaminants in soil and groundwater on the property.

The Brownfields agreement requires the developer to conduct sufficient actions to ensure the property is safe for reuse, under state oversight.  

To ensure this property is safe, the Brownfields program required a thorough evaluation of environmental conditions and the installation of systems to prevent any potential exposure. Much of the environmental work at Mill 800 has involved installing systems that prevent exposure, including a vapor barrier and mitigation system that were installed beneath the slabs of the buildings. In addition, a protective barrier of clean soil was required to be placed over any contaminated soil.

Prior to occupancy, the buildings are thoroughly tested and certified by independent professional engineers to ensure they’re safe for occupancy. As with all Brownfields agreements, all systems and controls are routinely monitored to ensure they continuously operate as intended.

Deakle said his company has pumped about $35 million into the local economy and employed about 200 people to fully redevelop the property.

Deakle said rents for the one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments range from $780 to $1,400, to enable people from diverse backgrounds to experience urban living. Two other spaces on the property are proposed for use as commercial businesses.

“We feel the Chatham Mills Project has been and will continue to be a catalyst for that neighborhood,” Deakle said. “Our objective is to bring economic vitality to a neighborhood that had fallen out of favor.”