by Rich Lewis

The folks behind the revitalization of the old Revolution Mill property are moving forward again, this time with even bigger and better projects. The property will continue its growth as a small business center, but with additional emphasis in Phase II on making this a destination property for work, home and recreation.

Nick Piornack, Business Development Manager for Revolution Mill, said initial work on Phase II of the project began this past spring, but things were really picking up steam now.

“The project is slated to run up to about $100 million by completion,” he said. “Once this phase is done, we’ll have about 520,000 sq. feet of renovated space under roof.”

He explained that the original Phase I development plan for the property renovated about 130,000 sq. feet of the property into office space.

That’s a huge property, in and of itself, and a big leap of faith in the economy we’ve been slugging through over the past decade. Phase I could have ended up like a number of commercial properties around the country, under leased and just hanging on. Instead, the old mill drew tenants and has been a success story. Currently, 115,000 sq. feet of the property is under lease and it features a diverse group of tenants including hair salons, insurance agencies, law offices, interior designers, medical labs and other businesses.

So how do you replicate that success and continue to move forward with even bigger plans?

Revolution Mill, and its parent company Self-Help, are betting on growing not just the business space aspect of the property, but also its suitability as a destination space. Piornack explained that Phase II will be bringing in living spaces as well as designed attractions and opportunities.

“We have a residential wing under construction now that will feature 142 one and two-bedroom apartments,” he explained. “We hope to have them ready for occupancy in August or September of 2016. We’re working really hard to preserve the look and feel of the mill in each of these because you don’t want to lose the historical aspects of the property. Just to prove it, we had to do 26 different floor plans of the apartments due to us trying to preserve as many of the original architectural details as we can under the circumstances.”

The apartments will run along one of the longest wings of the property in two stories with small open atriums along the long corridor to make the most use of the natural light available. The brick work, beams and wooden floors aren’t just preserved but are highlighted by the designs, creating a loft look that is both on trend and historically appropriate. The immense amount of brickwork alone makes this a facility that speaks to the history of architecture in the Carolina clay belt and something that can’t really be found elsewhere.

Photo by Rich Lewis

People are already interested in the apartments and the waiting list is currently at 300 people who might make this place their new home.

Beyond the residential area, Revolution Mills will continue growing its business space within the overall property.

“We’re going to be introducing more Class A office space along with a combination of creative workspaces that are tailorable for everything from photographers and interior designers to painters, digital artists and other visual artists that need studio space,” Piornack said. “We’ll even have a set of small open offices for people who just need a small workplace but want to be part of a place like this. There’s just enough space for a couple of desks and room to move around in.”

Those small offices will run along another wing of the building in a saw tooth design that is an obvious tip of the hat to other reclaimed industrial spaces in the area, such as Winston-Salem’s Sawtooth Center for Visual Arts. Each features a glass front, keeping with the overall look of the office spaces within Revolution Mills. Those glass fronted offices serve two-fold purposes, Piornack explained, as they keep everything light and open looking while helping to meet the need to show off as much of the historical structure as possible.

Other business uses are found further out in the wings of the facility. At the farthest ends, the old architecture was open with soaring windows. Spaces like that, he said, were perfect for corporate offices where an open floor plan could create excellent work spaces and configurations based on individual needs.

There’s more to the complex plans than just a place to work and hang your hat at the end of a long day.

Photo by Rich Lewis

“The entire campus is about 50 acres and when we’re done with this phase, it will include two restaurants, a food market, art galleries and a large outdoor festival/ event space,” Piornack continued. “We’re hoping for a range of 1,200 to 1,500 people living and working on the campus here. And we want to have things to bring people here, we want this to be a destination.”

He went on to explain that plans for this to be an entertainment destination included outdoor eating areas, a tiered greenspace, a place that could be used as an outdoor cinema and an amphitheater. Bridges would run across Buffalo Creek, which runs right through the complex, providing both neat architectural details and easy access to parking.

There are also hopes to connect in to the city’s existing Greenway and bike paths to interweave the property with more of what is happening in the city.

“Self-Help looks for buildings and projects that can be economic catalysts in lower to middle income areas of communities,” Piornack said. Developing a campus like this, with its mix of residential, work, entertainment and retail spaces can have far reaching effects.

“It helps the energy of a neighborhood and it brings life back into the homes in an area as well as the surrounding marketplace,” he continued. “We’re located just one mile from Moses Cone Hospital and six minutes from downtown.

Something Is Brewing At The Mill

One of the biggest draws to the facility could very well be the addition of Greensboro’s own Natty Greene’s Brewery to the property. As of press time, the deal had not been completely finalized, but it does look very optimistic, Piornack said.

A big hurdle for this part of the project was cleared at the Dec. 8 meeting of the Greensboro City Council. That evening, in a 9-0 vote, the City Council approved a measure to provide $387,500 in incentives to pair up Revolution Mill and Natty Greene’s.

At the Council Meeting, Natty Greene’s Kayne Fisher (co-owner/founder with Chris Lester) explained that the move and expansion of Natty Greene’s would bring the brewery’s local capital investment to $14.25 million and add another 27 jobs to their payroll, averaging $40,000 in annual pay.

This would be a big facility project and it is one that Natty Greene’s needs to make, he explained to the board. The move would allow them to push their production levels to about 109,000 barrels of beer per year. While the brand has been growing and is enjoyed from Washington, DC to Charleston, SC, this would allow them to move into a super-regional brand situation, breaking into new markets and improving their footprint.

That step is something the brewers are going to make and to reach that production goal, they hadn’t taken a move outside of Greensboro off the shelf. He explained that they were being courted by both Charlotte and Danville, Virginia, heavily.

Photo by Jeff Sykes

“Having already gone through two expansions,” Fisher said, “this will be our largest ever and it will be our last stop. This is that big for us.

“We’ve been in business here for 19 years,” he continued. “And now we want to build a destination location that we and Greensboro can be proud of.”

Fisher went on to say Natty Greene’s was once one of the earliest supporters of revitalizing downtown Greensboro. “And people thought we were crazy for being part of it.”

District 5 Councilman Tony Wilkins did ask pointedly whether the granting of the incentives would seal the deal and take Danville and Charlotte off the table.

Fisher didn’t answer the question directly, but he did say, “This puts all of our focus on Greensboro.

It will also be our final ask.”

District 2 Councilman Jamal Fox said he was very appreciative of the Natty Greene’s request and commitment to the city and the project. He felt the impact not just to Revolution Mill, but also to the Second District where it resides, would be vitally important. He didn’t want to see the opportunity slip away from the community or for Natty Greene’s to lose that connection to its city and namesake.

“When you are looking at the competition, you’ve just got to say, ‘Charlotte who? Danville who?” he said before the vote.

“I want to thank you for investing in our community and for being involved in our downtown before it was cool,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn said to Fisher and the Natty Greene’s employees in attendance. “We certainly hope you’ll be staying here.”

The measure did pass unanimously. The incentives are part of a performance grant agreement, so they are dependent on Natty Greene’s not just doing the project locally, but also following investment, labor and performance benchmarks before the incentives are paid out.

Fisher did say that if Natty Greene’s moved to Revolution Mill, the brewery will continue to keep its presence in downtown, including the conversion of some of its current space to another restaurant/pub experience for visitors and residents.

Bigger Things Beyond The Brew

Photo by Jeff Sykes

That wasn’t the only incentive package approved for the Revolution Mill Phase II on Dec. 8 th . An even bigger set of incentives went to Self-Help’s Revolution Mill to the tune of $1 million.

Self-Help’s Tucker Bartlett spoke to the Board, providing them with an overview of the project and asked them to see this incentive package through as part of their commitment to the overall project and what it is doing for the economy.

The $1 million in incentives would be paired up with the nearly $100 million that is already going into the project. Some of the biggest endeavors would include a bridge over the Buffalo Creek from parking areas to the proposed brew pub, the deconstruction and removal of the non-historic Olympic Mill at the bottom of the property, and the creation of an entirely new entrance linking the property to Textile Drive. Landscaping site improvements will run $2.5 million alone.

All of that, and the massive interior work being done, means jobs. Construction and trades like electricians, plumbers, landscapers, HVAC installers will be big employment groups on site, but you can also add in everything from demolition laborers to the technicians that will run cable throughout the buildings. Sanding, prepping and preserving the hardwood floors and features in the building will keep a crowd of skilled folks hard at work for the foreseeable future.

Bartlett said it would generate a total of 1,200 construction jobs during the project with about 1,000 workers on site on any given day. Overall, they were expecting the payroll totals for the project to reach $25 million dollars.

Economically, the area around Revolution Mills has suffered since textile production ended there in the 1980s and the population around the property features a large minority contingent that some feel has been underserved in community revitalization efforts. First District Councilwoman Sharon Hightower wanted to make sure that before any incentives were approved, there would be a commitment to making sure Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE) standards were met and pursued throughout the project. Debate followed, with both sides pretty much arguing that those standards were in place, but that perhaps for future projects, the City needs to develop a punch list to make sure every standard is being met and that all can be aware that the process has been followed.

Councilman Fox, before the vote was taken, once again expressed his support for the overall project and for its impact on the district he serves. “They started with 25 acres and they’re up to 50 acres now, with a potential for more expansion. This project in the end is going to be even better than the American Tobacco campus in Durham. There’s even going to be a Cone Mills Museum on site to teach about the heritage of this community. Evolution at Revolution, this is the place.”

After a bit more discussion, the board put the measure to a vote and it passed unanimously. The incentives will be paid out over time as benchmarks are hit along the way. The first payment will be $500,000 followed by $100,000 installments over the next five years, totaling the full $1 million. All installments are performance based, and if goals are not met, the payments can be delayed or lost. !