As the former Spencer’s industrial buildings sat dark and empty Wednesday, plans were being presented nearby for turning the old structures into a hotel/convention center, theater, apartments, an arts center, a business incubator and more.
Representatives of four different business groups attended a meeting of the Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission to outline proposals for the site that includes some structures built in the 1890s, where infant apparel manufacturing ceased in 2007 due to foreign competition.
Based on those presentations — which drew a late-afternoon crowd that filled the council chambers of the Municipal Building and spilled out into the lobby — developers are willing to invest more than $40 million to make the various projects a reality.
These would be fueled by the availability of governmental tax credits which are granted to breathe new life into structures with historic value. The city government bought the Spencer’s complex last year, situated in the Willow Street area downtown, and appointed the redevelopment commission to spearhead its revitalization.
One of the more-ambitious plans was presented Wednesday evening by Dana Bryson, a partner in a Winston-Salem development group that owns and operates facilities including Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem and The Village Inn Event Center in Clemmons.
Bryson’s group is proposing a “historic boutique hotel” and banquet center here which would offer four-star lodging accommodations with 70 to 85 rooms, at an estimated cost of $12 million.
The project also would include meeting and banquet space for 350 to 600 people to host conventions or meetings of statewide groups. There are more than 900 active associations in North Carolina, according to Bryson, who thinks Mount Airy has the amenities to attract those groups.
This would be boosted by designing tourism packages, with the help of local groups such as the chamber of commerce, to utilize the local winery, golf and retail industries.
Bryson’s proposal would require four of the Spencer’s buildings, and provide jobs for 50-plus local residents, she said.
The developers who spoke Wednesday expressed the need to have facilities in place to augment those existing amenities and drive traffic for the hotel — which is where Fred Jones entered the picture.
Jones is the owner of several restaurants in town and a member of an investment group that wants to develop an “entertainment complex” of the type one might encounter in Myrtle Beach or Gatlinburg, based on his description.
It theoretically would include a large auditorium for hosting big-name musical performances or plays.
“I’m talking about a professional level, not a community level,” Jones said of the entertainment offerings envisioned, which he said would not detract from local events such as those of the Surry Arts Council.
The proposed complex also could feature an arts and crafts mall, a small business incubator that would be an educational facility and a visual arts component that could include training in filmmaking and other skills, among other segments.
Yet Jones seemed most excited about the theater component of his concept, representing about $15 million overall, likening it to the highly regarded Flat Rock Playhouse in the Asheville area.
“I think if Flat Rock, North Carolina, can do it, Mount Airy, North Carolina, can do it, too,” he said.
The project proposed by Jones would make use of three of the Spencer’s buildings, including its former dye house and knitting plant.
The representatives of the four development groups who made pitches Wednesday evening each expressed the need for the various components to be integrated in a way in which each supplements the others.
In addition to the hotel/convention center and entertainment complex, two other speakers outlined plans for housing complexes that would fill in around the other segments, along with courtyards and additional public areas.
Ken Reiter, owner of the Belmont Sayre real estate development firm in Durham, presented a plan for apartments which would include up to 120 units, of both one and two bedrooms, and parking space to support that.
It would be a $12 million plan involving the use of existing Spencer’s facilities and new construction.
“In general, the mill is in really good condition,” Reiter said of the Spencer’s property.
The apartment rental costs would range from $700 to $1,200 per month, Reiter said, with the housing geared toward young professionals or entrepreneurs. He said this would tap into a segment who wants a nice place to live without facing maintenance tasks such as mowing lawns, and a swimming pool they don’t have to clean.
Reiter’s firm played a key role in developing the American Tobacco Historic District in Durham and similar projects using former industrial structures.
The fourth plan presented is an estimated $3.8 million project eyed by The Landmark Group in Winston-Salem (through an entity known as the Spencer Mill Complex Development Group, LLC), which earlier produced the Globe Tobacco Lofts housing project on South Main Street.
That firm also was involved in a 2008 effort to revitalize the Spencer’s property, which never materialized.
The latest project would include up to 35 apartment units being developed at the Spencer’s site, proposed to be of the two-bedroom variety pending a market study of local housing needs, according to Landmark representative Linwood Davis.
These would be located in an area across Willow Street from the existing Renfro Lofts condominiums.
Decisions regarding the development projects will be made by local officials after further study.
But it was agreed during Wednesday’s meeting that multiple firms will be needed to redevelop the Spencer’s site due to its size — 10 acres now including 22 buildings.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.