ACHF takes the first steps in preserving the Southern MillPosted: February 21, 2012
The 18-acre Southern Mill property sits vacantly off of Oneta St. Once a booming cotton manufacturing plant, the expansive factory is now victim to years of neglect, water damage and graffiti vandalism.
To Amy Kissane, the executive director of the Athens Clarke County Heritage Foundation (ACHF), the Southern Mill holds potential. It is a representation of early industrial Athens. With hardly any changes made to the property since its establishment, the mill is living history.
Kissane and the board of the ACHF have brought the eyes of the public back to the Southern Mill. They are beginning the long and arduous campaign to educate the community on historic preservation. In doing so, they hope to catch the attention of experienced developers along the East Coast.
This task, however, is no easy one. With the economy in shambles and a facade easement in place, preserving the Southern Mill will have to be a community effort.
Historic preservation of mills is no oddity in the state of Georgia. Lee and Gordon’s Mills in Chickamauga and Banning Mill in Whitesburg have all been preserved into viable tourist locations. The mills serve as wedding spots, historical sites and travel destinations. Because of their respective preservation projects, the mills have evolved and become a source of economic revenue in the community.
Tom Aderhold, of Aderhold Properties based out of Atlanta, now owns the Southern Mill. He purchased a façade easement on the property in 2000. The easement serves two main purposes. Firstly, it gave Aderhold a tax deduction. The easement is worth half the property value, and it went as a charitable donation to the ACHF, a non-profit. Secondly, the easement protects the mill from developers changing the façade without the permission of the ACHF.
Aderhold was in the beginning stages of turning the mill into student apartment complexes in the early 2000s when the project stopped for unknown reasons. Now, the property is on the market. Barbara Dooley and her partner Jeff Wilson have listed the property with an asking price of $1.5 million.
Kissane and the ACHF hosted a public symposium on February 4. Speakers from all over the country addressed an audience of elected Athens officials, concerned parents and city developers on the many benefits of historic preservation.
The first speaker was Donovan Rypkema, from a Washington, D.C real estate and development firm. He spoke about the economic sustainability preservation offers the community. Rypkema said homes in historic districts appreciated by 21 percent from 2000-2007. One of his students at The University of Pennsylvania found homes in historic districts are less likely to foreclose than homes in new construction areas. In addition to the economic benefits of preservation, Rypkema noted the environmental benefits. The materials used in new construction, such as aluminum and plastic, are almost four times as energy consumptive as the materials used in historic buildings, such as brick and timber.
Tom Liebel, an architect from Baltimore, then spoke about the role historic preservation plays in rebuilding a community. He and his firm helped to remodel Miller’s Court in Baltimore. The 125-year-old building was an eyesore in the community. Liebel said it was the site of nighttime prostitution and drug deals. He and his team preserved the building and turned it into low cost apartments for teachers from Teach for America. He also transformed the building into office spaces for local businesses and conference rooms for local non-profits. By using an already existing building, Liebel and his firm avoided 83.4 billion BTUs, or amount of wasted energy. He said “it has really transformed the community and led to other businesses opening around Miller’s Court.”
Kissane is aware of the large scope of this preservation. She believes such an expansive project will require the expertise of an experienced development company. “We need a company that has done something like this before,” she said.
Allen Stovall, a retired professor from the UGA School of Environmental Design, also acknowledged how complex this process will be. “The mill must become a multi-use space, it is a very complicated project,” Stovall said.
The next step for Kissane and her board is to find a financer that will buy the mill and preserve it. “This is big and will require big money,” Kissane said. The economic recession is making the task of finding a developer particularly difficult.
Kissane and her board believe the best way to aid this search is to educate the public on the tax incentives of buying a historic property. “We are working on pulling together information about tax credits for potential developers. We need to get together and discuss financing,” Kissane said.
There are currently no buyers. Kissane and her board remain positive in the search to find a financer and get the project started. Kissane knows the Southern Mill space can serve the greater community in some way. She would like to see it become a below-market-price apartment complex for artists and musicians. The apartments would also serve as work areas, giving the space the multi-use function Stovall mentioned.
With the Southern Mill symposium completed, Kissane and her board still have work to do. Kissane said the ACHF is responsible for getting the word out to the community and local officials about how important the Southern Mill project is.
“It is my job to make this go as smoothly as possible,” Kissane said. “The Foundation has a stake in this mill because of the easement,” she added.
The ACHF have enlisted the help of UGA students in developing ideas for the Southern Mill property. The students from the UGA Center for Community Design and Preservation will showcase their ideas in a charrette on February 24-26.
Despite the economic and governmental difficulties, Kissane and her team are moving forward in the creative aspect of the project. With such a large space, the possibilities are endless.