POPS Goes the Cleaners
Transforming a former mill and dry-cleaning business into a community amphitheater and park

The Pavilion on Park Square is the centerpiece of a redevelopment project that turned a former mill site into a state-of-the-art gathering and entertainment area for the Town of Forest City. Known as POPS, the town created this downtown oasis for the community with the help of DEQ’s Brownfields Program and the Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act (DSCA) Program.

Author: Laura J. Leonard

The Pavilion on Park Square is the centerpiece of a redevelopment project that turned a former mill site into a state-of-the-art gathering and entertainment area for the Town of Forest City. Known as POPS, the town created this downtown oasis for the community with the help of DEQ’s Brownfields Program and the Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act (DSCA) Program.

Built in the 1800s, the Florence Mill was once a thriving economic hub and one of the oldest mills in Rutherford County. Employing more than 300 people and comprising seven acres, the mill remained open for nearly 110 years. During that time, the site expanded to include the Forest Dale Dry Cleaners, Blanton Hotel and Forest Dale Laundry plus a general store and other additional buildings.

The mill closed in 2001, leaving an important area central to the community vacant. In 2004, the Town of Forest City stepped in and purchased the property. As the town developed a plan for the site, officials worked with DEQ’s Brownfields Program.

The Brownfields Agreement, finalized in 2006, allows the safe redevelopment of the site with specific land-use restrictions. The initial plan was commercial and residential reuse; however, following the economic downturn in 2008, the town had to re-evaluate its development plans. After receiving a $200,000 cleanup grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the town was able to conduct a soil treatment and removal in late 2008, paving the way for the redevelopment.

The Brownfields Program staff have continued to work and advise the Town’s representatives on the current development of the park, concessions and restroom areas. 

”This has been such a journey and true transformation for the Town of Forest City,” said Tracy Wahl, NC Brownfields Program Western District Supervisor. “They had the insight in 2004 to seek out the Brownfields Program to safely redevelop a blighted area in the town’s center. It’s wonderful to see the results of the collaborative efforts between the town, other Division of Waste Management programs, the EPA and numerous consultants and contractors.”

As part of that collaboration was the important work provided by the DSCA Program, which helps active and inactive dry-cleaning facilities assess and cleanup dry-cleaning solvent contamination. The Forest Dale Cleaners site was certified into DSCA on October 5, 2015. When the site entered the program, DSCA staff met with town representatives, the developer and Brownfields staff to discuss assessment, remediation and redevelopment. DSCA staff completed a site and risk assessments to determine the existing and potential future risks. Based on this evaluation, DSCA staff recommended a form of vapor mitigation be included in the construction, and it was incorporated into the land-use restrictions required by the Brownfields Program.

That’s when the Pavilion on Park Square went from vision to reality. Completed in 2019, the POPS amphitheater seats 2,000 and has been host to a variety of activities and events in the community. Located beside historic downtown Main Street and the Thermal Belt Rail Trail, POPS offers an amphitheater with covered stage, two splash pads and a plaza.

“This amphitheater, which has become a wonderful centerpiece for the Town of Forest City, represents collaboration at its finest,” said Mike Cunningham, a DSCA Program project manager. “The efforts between DSCA, Brownfields, private consultants and Forest City to ensure that potential risks were accounted for and safely managed reflects everyone’s commitment to the well-being of residents and the future of the Town of Forest City.”  

“Thank you for all the assistance from these awesome programs in cleaning up this site and allowing the Town to construct a beautiful park for the citizens of Forest City to enjoy,” said Jimmy Clay, Town of Forest City’s Planning and Codes Administrator.

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