In this post, CED will continue to look at the impact that redevelopment of historic mills can have on local communities. In previous posts the CED blog examined how historic tax credits can help finance adaptive reuse projects like the Renfro Mill and Monroe Hardware Warehouse. This post will take a closer look at how these projects can act as a catalyst for local economic growth.
Taylors is a small community located in upstate South Carolina eight miles northeast of Greenville. The origin of Taylors dates back to the mid-19th century when the Southern Railway expanded its service from Charlotte to Greenville. Located adjacent to the Enoree River, the Southern Bleachery was built in Taylors in 1924 to service the booming textile industry prevalent in the area at that time. While the bleachery didn’t actually produce textiles, it did convert them through bleaching and dyeing prior to sending them off to be incorporated into finished goods. During World War II, the Southern Bleachery produced cloth for uniforms, bedding and tents, and at its peak employed over 1,000 workers. The mill remained operational until 1965, when it was purchased by the Burlington Company.
The period after 1965 is not well-documented, but it is believed that the mill sat mostly vacant for nearly 50 years, until a local citizen named Kenneth Walker purchased the property in 2006. Mr. Walker purchased the property with the intention of renovating the mill and leasing space to local small businesses. He successfully ushered the mill through the rezoning process and successfully lobbied to have the Southern Bleachery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2011 local artists began leasing studio space at Taylors Mill and in January 2013 the first major retail tenant, Due South Coffee Roasters, opened for business.
Ownership of the mill changed hands in May 2015 when Caleb Lewis and Greg Cotton purchased the property from Kenneth Walker. Both Caleb and Greg were renting space at Taylors Mill when they agreed to purchase the property, and have continued investing in the property since. The new ownership team has also placed particular importance on raising awareness of Taylors Mill in the Greenville area, and have done so by participating in First Fridays, a monthly art gallery crawl in the Greenville Area, and by hosting community events such as the annual Fall Festival and a weekly Farmer’s Market during the summer. Last Memorial Day, Taylors Mill partnered with Made South, a company based in Nashville, Tennessee to host a two-day Made South Market event, which attracted hundreds of new visitors to Taylors. Currently Taylors Mill is home to nearly 80 businesses, with more on the way. 13 Stripes Brewing will soon be opening their first location in Taylors Mill, and there has been interest from other specialty food and beverage companies as well.
The Taylors Mill team says that they would like to reach 150 tenants within the next few years, but are quick to emphasize the importance of attracting the right kind of businesses. Unlike some of the other historic mill projects in the nearby “Textile Crescent,” the redevelopment of Taylors Mill has been an organic process, one that is as focused on fostering a sense of community as it is about rental rates. Since it reopened its doors in 2011, Taylors Mill has strived to provide a “first step out of the home” for local businesses. They see Taylors Mill as the perfect option for companies moving out of the garage, but may not be quite ready for their own standalone brick and mortar storefront yet. The supportive community and creative atmosphere present at the mill may also explain why the turnover rate among tenants has been so low over the years. Regardless of their future plans, one advantage that the team at Taylors Mill has on their side is space. Despite having approximately 200,000 square feet of leased space, they still have nearly 600,000 square feet of finished space available for expansion.
Taylors Mill is an interesting case study because it demonstrates the value of a community-centric model for economic revitalization and development. Due to the foresight and determination of local citizens like Kenneth Walker, Caleb Lewis, Greg Cotton and many others, the community of Taylors, South Carolina is becoming a popular destination for budding local businesses and a blossoming creative scene. This project can undoubtedly serve as a model for those across the state of North Carolina trying to simultaneously spark economic development and activate vacant industrial properties within their communities.
Zach Spencer is a first-year MBA student concentrating in Real Estate Development at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill. He is currently a Community Revitalization Fellow with the Development Finance Initiative.
 2010 Demographic Profile – http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml
Photo Credit: Alex Reynolds, Communications Director – Taylors Mill