After years of planning and construction, Gastonia’s historic Loray Mill is wrapping up its first phase of renovations and preparing to open its doors to residents in October.
The $39 million project will transform the century-old textile mill into a residential and commercial space. The restoration has provided a chance to revitalize a struggling neighborhood, local leaders said at a tour of the building Monday afternoon.
But its significance stretches beyond Gastonia. With the North Carolina General Assembly debating tax credits for historic preservation, the project’s success serves as an example of the tax credits in action, proponents said.
“It’s just an incredible example of what can be done with historical preservation efforts,” said N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz, who attended Monday’s tour. “This is the type of work we’re fighting for in the legislature.”
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Home to Firestone Textiles and Fibers for decades, the mill was left empty in 1993 after almost 100 years of activity. It is perhaps best known as the site of a bloody labor strike that drew worldwide attention in 1929.
The mill was acquired in 1998 by Raleigh-based nonprofit Preservation North Carolina, which devoted the next several years to finding a way to revitalize the space.
“We kissed a lot of toads,” former Gastonia Mayor Jennie Stultz said of the search for a developer.
Construction began in April 2013, and work will continue as the first residents begin moving into the apartments this fall. In addition to the 190 loft apartments, the first phase of construction incorporates 34,000 square feet of amenities and 79,000 square feet of commercial space that will include a bar and a coffee shop, among other establishments.
Watching the transformation of the mill over the decades has been gratifying, Stultz said.
“I’ve seen it go from operating mill to midtown blight to seeing it with the lights on now,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. It can transform this whole neighborhood.”
Throughout the project, developers worked to preserve the building’s character. The apartments feature the mill’s original large windows and exposed brick, with architectural details such as rounded wooden columns and grooved ceiling beams left in place.
“We let what they did 100 years ago speak for itself,” said John Gumpert of Loray Mill Redevelopment LLC.
Without the historic preservation tax credit, the project would not have been possible, Preservation North Carolina President Myrick Howard said. The credit is due to expire at the end of 2014 if the General Assembly does not choose to continue it.
A bill to continue the credit received bipartisan support and was twice passed by the House of Representatives, but it has not been able to clear the Senate, Howard noted.
“Every city and town, rural and urban, needs this type of economic development,” Kluttz said. “And I don’t know a better example of cultural preservation than the Loray Mill.”