South Charlotte

Arson fire won't stop plans for old York mill

The Lockmore Cotton Mill survived the Depression and two world wars. And now it appears it will live on despite an arsonist's torch last April that destroyed more than two-thirds of the 105-year-old red brick icon.

The owners of the building, Landmark Group of Winston-Salem, have announced they will proceed with a $5.5 million renovation to convert the former mill into affordable housing for the elderly.

“It was a horrible fire that destroyed a significant part of the mill, but it did not destroy the need for elderly housing,” said Landmark spokesman Mike Massoglia. “And so we're proceeding with our plans and will be on the footprint of the original site. We're working closely with our architects and they're confident we can rebuild a similar type building…”

York Mayor Eddie Lee applauded Landmark's decision and said the 40 apartments will help fill a genuine need in the town, as well as preserve York's textile mill heritage.

“You can't burn down history and that's what the Lockmore represents for York,” said Lee, an associate history professor at Winthrop University. “This mill was built by the sweat of the brow of this community, and it deserves to live on in our town.”

Lee said a community development block grant for waterlines for the Lockmore will improve water services to the entire neighborhood.

Ryan Tobin, the project manager for Lockmore, had worked on the mill for three months before the fire.

“I really got a sense of what the old mill meant to the people who still lived in the neighborhood when they would stop by and talk with us,” Tobin said. “A building like this has so much character … I think the architects have come up with a plan that will replicate the look and feel of the old mill.”

Plans call for keeping the original water tank and using some salvaged bricks. The project should be completed by late 2009.

York Fire Chief Domenic Manera said the fire was started by an arsonist. Despite some good leads, no arrests have been made.

Landmark has become one of the foremost developers of historic properties in the Carolinas, using state and federal tax incentives to rehabilitate historic buildings into affordable housing. Landmark founder and president DeWayne Anderson has testified before the S.C. General Assembly on behalf of the Textile Mill Revitalization Tax Credits program. Landmark completed a $13.4 million restoration of the Highland Park Mill in Rock Hill into 116 apartments and became the first developer to qualify for credits to rehabilitate former textile mills.

Bonnie Watts worked in textiles for more than four decades; he operated a bleaching, finishing and printing plant at Lockmore from 1978 until 2007, when he sold it to Landmark.

“It was a wonderful old mill and built solid as a rock,” he said. “The night of the fire I saw the smoke rising and was here maybe 15 minutes after it started. It was a horrible fire. But these folks seem to have the right idea to turn it into elderly housing … The old building just keeps on giving.”