The old Spencer’s Inc. apparel-manufacturing site that has been the subject of grand plans in recent years is now headed to the auction block instead.
On Monday, workers used a lifting device to attach banners announcing the May 15 auction to each side of the familiar above-ground crosswalk over Willow Street which links two Spencer’s buildings. As the large yellow banners were raised, a feeling of an era coming to an end seemed to permeate the air.
Its iconic baby-blue buildings that dot downtown Mount Airy’s landscape, the oldest of which dates to around 1890, are symbolic of Spencer’s heyday as a maker of infant clothing which hired generations of local textile workers.
The paint is somewhat faded, equally symbolic of the city’s industrial demise over the past dozen years and various plans to give new life to the old Spencer’s buildings which have fallen by the wayside.
Most recently, this included an attempt by longtime Spencer’s owner Jim Crossingham to develop condominiums in part of the space formerly used for manufacturing, along with possible retail and office uses.
In June 2012, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved the rezoning of two Spencer’s sites, on Willow and Market streets, to accommodate the 17-unit condominium complex planned. The condos that were envisioned were compared at the time to Renfro Lofts, which involved former manufacturing facilities right across the street from the Spencer’s property which were renovated for condominiums beginning in 2002.
Yet the condo/retail/office complex proposed by Crossingham wasn’t realized.
Crossingham declined to comment on the situation by telephone Monday, while agreeing to discuss it fully during a follow-up interview in person. But a spokesman for the South Carolina auction firm commissioned to conduct the upcoming sale said it was his understanding the veteran industrialist had fielded some offers regarding the condo plans which simply didn’t evolve.
“It never came to fruition,” said Glen Brooks of Martin & Martin Auctioneers Inc. of Pelzer, S.C.
This led to a decision by Crossingham to have the property sold on an absolute-auction basis this spring, meaning it will go to the highest bidder regardless of cost.
“He contacted us right before Christmas,” Brooks said of efforts to launch the auction process for the former industrial site.
“We are selling the whole complex,” the company spokesman added, although the property is being offered in two separate parcels, including six buildings on the west side of Willow Street and two to the east.
Future Uses Unclear
Collectively, the eight structures in the Spencer’s Inc. complex are spread over 10 acres and contain about 308,000 square-feet under roof.
Brooks said at the site on Monday that an auction of the type planned at noon on May 15 is considered the best way to dispose of properties such as the Spencer’s site.
The potential buyers could range from someone else wanting to build a condominium complex, to the “low-end man” who simply wants to tear down the structures and sell off the materials, Brooks said. The transaction will offer 60 percent historic tax credits from federal and state sources on qualified rehabilitation expenses, according to information on the Martin & Martin Auctioneers website.
In 2008, even before the condominium project was pursued by Crossingham, then-City Manager Don Brookshire was working to bring about a possible convention center or other facilities that potentially would have utilized Spencer’s property.
Brooks said a man in California, whom he identified as a large-scale auto restorer, has expressed interest in the Mount Airy site that would involve its reuse for a new enterprise. That potential buyer is seeking buildings containing sufficient space to house his restoration operations while also providing showrooms for vehicles.
The auction spokesman said a preview period is planned for would-be purchasers to look over the Spencer’s complex, but has not been scheduled.
Martin Collins, the community-development director for the city of Mount Airy who has closely monitored the site in recent years, sees the impending sale as a good sign.
“I certainly hope that the auction leads to some renewed interest in redeveloping the mill property,” Collins said Monday. He lamented the fact the “sustained interest”shown in the property in 2008-2009 had fallen victim to the economy.
The auctioneer firm will be marketing the complex on a widespread basis.
“I think all that maybe works in our favor,” Collins said of the possibility that the sale will make the former Spencer’s property productive once again. “I honestly believe it (the auction) is good news.”
It likely will be held in one of the old company parking lots off Willow Street, Brooks said Monday as the workers finished hanging the signage on the overhead crosswalk — which he mentioned will likely be a casualty of the sale.
“We hope the banners will get some attention,” he said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.