Last updated: August 21. 2014 5:21PM - 833 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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As part of its mission of injecting new life into a blighted industrial area in Mount Airy, a recently formed group is going right to the source.

Members of the city redevelopment commission plan to meet next Wednesday at the former Spencer’s Inc. property in Mount Airy for an up-close examination of a site that was the catalyst for the group’s creation in April.

“I have never been in there,” commission Chairman Steve Yokeley, also a Mount Airy councilman, said Thursday regarding the decision by the new group to meet at the complex acquired by the city government at an absolute auction in May.

Yokeley said others on the seven-member commission probably haven’t had that opportunity, either, even though Spencer’s Inc. manufactured infant apparel in the familiar blue structures for decades before shutting down in 2007.

A 90-minute session has been set aside for the group to tour the former industrial complex that is spread over 9.5 acres and contains eight buildings. Members then will move to the Municipal Building to conclude their meeting.

Knowing the Spencer’s property was going on the open market, Mount Airy officials secretly arranged to buy the bulk of those holdings for $92,381 using a bidding agent — to avoid a visible city presence adversely affecting the auction.

Officials later explained that they consider the Spencer’s property vital to downtown Mount Airy’s future, with the redevelopment commission formed to ensure control of its uses and allow projects there to be expedited given the various powers it wields.

“Lots Of Good Ideas”

Wednesday’s visit to the Spencer’s site will allow the group’s members “to see it for ourselves and see exactly what we’re dealing with,” Yokeley explained. This hopefully will lead to a decision on how the property can best be redeveloped for productive enterprises that will create jobs, he said.

Possibilities that have emerged so far include a hotel, retail shops, a distillery, a convention center and others.

“I’ve heard a lot of ideas from a lot of people — there are lots of good ideas,” Yokeley said of those and other potential uses.

“I think just going in the buildings is going to help us decide what can be done.”

The oldest of the structures dates to around 1890. The site originally was used by the tobacco industry, before Spencer’s Inc. emerged in the 1920s to produce infant clothing.

Eventually, the new Mount Airy Redevelopment Commission — which is empowered to address other blighted areas in town in addition to Spencer’s, and can even seize them through eminent domain — will develop a formal plan for that site. The commission members have expertise in fields including construction, finance and real estate, but will rely on outside consulting assistance for some of the functions involved.

A series of public hearings will allow citizens to weigh in on the redevelopment process.

While preserving the integrity of the Spencer’s property is a priority, Yokeley said the realistic expectation is that not all the structures will be saved.

“I understand some of the buildings have roofs that are caving in — they’re not in very good condition,” the commission chairman said. Next week’s visit will be a key in understanding “what we’re starting out with,” he added.

“I feel fairly certain there will be some that will have to be demolished, but the historic buildings that are the most prominent there will definitely be saved,” Yokeley said, which includes the original two along Willow Street.

“It’s very important to keep those, not only for historic purposes, but they will be eligible for tax credits for redevelopers.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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