Giant steps have been taken in a project to transform the former Spencer’s industrial property in downtown Mount Airy into a boutique hotel and upscale apartments.
“This thing is rolling,” Mac McCarley — a Charlotte attorney contracted to assist city officials with that effort — said Thursday night after the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners completed a series of votes designed to get the long-awaited redevelopment into high gear.
About 10 different actions were considered relating to the approval of development agreements — all greeted with 5-0 votes by the commissioners. The most important of these was transferring ownership of portions of the former apparel-manufacturing complex to two private developers from out of town who will construct the four-star hotel/banquet center and apartments.
The two, Brookstown Hospitality and Belmont Sayre, took out options on their respective parcels fronting Willow Street in 2016, which have now been exercised. Those sales, which went into effect Friday, had to take place before Dec. 31 under new federal tax-reform legislation in order for the Spencer’s Mill Redevelopment Project to receive historic tax credits deemed essential to the project.
“Mayor, these were very big steps — you ought to be excited,” McCarley told Mayor David Rowe after the series of votes. “Tonight is a major milestone in the Spencer’s Mill project.”
The excitement noted by the attorney, a recognized redevelopment expert, quickly manifested itself with comments by the commissioners in summing up what happened.
“We just made history for the city of Mount Airy, starting tomorrow,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said in reference to Friday’s effective sale date.
“This is a historic night,” the board’s Steve Yokeley agreed, “and an exciting night for the city of Mount Airy and I hope everybody will realize that soon.”
May groundbreaking eyed
A bit of frustration, with a dash of skepticism, has been evident recently among some local citizens who’ve perceived a lack of movement on a project dating to May 2014 when the municipality bought the sprawling Spencer’s site at auction.
The effort has weathered a number of crooks and turns, including the termination of a special seven-member commission originally appointed to guide the redevelopment.
Yet much activity has been ongoing behind the scenes in recent months, including numerous discussions in closed sessions.
“It looks so easy and quick up here with that voting,” Commissioner Dean Brown said of the series of actions completed in the span of a few minutes Thursday night.
“But we’ve been working on this for about three years,” Brown reminded the crowd attending the meeting, including a number of three-to-four-hour meetings of late.
“It’s just not click, click, click that you’re seeing tonight,” he added. “We did put in a lot of hours.”
Now that the actions have been taken, the public should be seeing some construction progress soon at the Spencer’s site that has been dormant since 2007 when the production of infant’s and children’s apparel ceased among facilities dating to the 1890s.
“I think everybody is excited to see that happen,” city Community Development Coordinator Martin Collins said Thursday night.
“You should see ground breaking in May,” McCarley said of construction that must get under way by the end of June under the requirements for the tax credits that boost financing for mill projects while preserving historic buildings.
The developers will have two years starting in June to complete construction on the hotel/banquet center and apartments to qualify for those credits.
“My feeling is that they will be done well ahead of that,” McCarley said.
City Manager Barbara Jones also expressed her thoughts on the present state of the redevelopment.
“I’m excited,” Jones said. “We’re going to have a boutique hotel and apartments downtown — I’m looking forward to the ribbon cutting.”
Mayor Rowe expressed gratitude to the two development entities — representatives of which attended Thursday night’s meeting. He thanked them for “sticking out their multimillion-dollar necks on a project like this.”
The redevelopment will increase Mount Airy’s tax base while adding jobs and improving the community overall, including more lodging and event space.
This was alluded to by local businessman Chad Tidd, one of the speakers at a required public hearing on the development agreements which preceded Thursday night’s votes.
“This project, once completed, will be an asset to citizens, businesses and those who visit the city,” said Tidd, speaking on behalf of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
“We welcome Brookstown Hospitality and Belmont Sayre with open arms,” said Carol Burke, another local citizen who spoke during the public hearing.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.