Editor’s Note: This issue contains news stories about my son, Christopher Moore, in his quest to restore the former Simpson Paper Mill to its former grandeur in the heart of Vicksburg, in a multi-use development to be called The Mill.
Because of my close relationship to this project, I have asked other reporters to research and write stories about the development. I pledge to our readership that I will have a hands-off commitment to telling the story of The Mill, that I won’t write or edit any of the stories about The Mill during its reconstruction and reportage in the South County News.
It’s important to the veracity and independence of this newspaper that the public does not perceive that I personally am touting one of my own interests. What is important is that people know what is happening in efforts to improve the building and the acreage around it, hopefully to the benefit of the community.
Sue Moore, editor and publisher of the South County News
By Jef Rietsma
A Vicksburg native is proposing redevelopment of an iconic village property at a cost that project executives say could reach $50 million.
Chris Moore, owner of Paper City Development LLC, is the driving force behind The Mill, a multi-use development that would include a brewery, restaurant and taproom, retail offerings, craft food and beverage production facilities, offices, artist studios, event space and a residential component on the 30-acre property.
Moore, 52, is owner of Old Stove Brewery in Seattle.
Jackie Koney, project manager for The Mill, said Moore’s interest in redeveloping the property took root in early 2014 after learning the buildings that comprised the former Lee Paper Mill were slated for demolition.
“Chris had been speaking with the village manager at the time, Ken Schippers, and the village president, Bill Adams, about the idea of an Old Stove Brewing Company in Vicksburg. It was around this time he found out about the plan to demolish the old mill,” Koney said. “When Chris was in town the next time, he went with Bill and Ken to tour the site and Bill happened to mention the county was going to spend $3 million to tear it down.”
Moore’s immediate reply?
“Well, why don’t you give me the $3 million and I’ll do something with it?” according to Koney, who said the wheels of fate were set in motion at that moment.
Koney said she wasn’t surprised to hear Moore’s ambitious plan. The two have been acquaintances since the mid-1980s. Koney recalled Moore worked at the mill during his summers home from college. He was the third generation in his family to work at the mill, Koney said.
“Chris is a big-idea kind of guy, so I really wasn’t shocked when he called and told me his initial plans for the mill,” she added. “I know it’s a place that is near and dear to him and his family, so, no, there was no surprise at all.”
Kalamazoo County currently owns 26 acres of the mill property. The Kalamazoo County Land Bank is in possession of the balance, which includes the newer warehouse area. Koney said the full redevelopment is dependent on funding support and once that puzzle comes together it will take years before completion. Initially, however, Moore wants to focus on establishing Old Stove Brewing Co. and the craft food and beverage production area. The retail and residential aspects will follow.
Converting a former manufacturing property into something new is not unprecedented, Koney said. She noted Moore is incorporating examples used on both U.S. coasts.
Considering the current state of the property, however, the concept could fairly be labeled a stretch. Koney conceded the volume of work is high but added she has full faith in Moore and the team he has assembled.
Regarding the various buildings on the property, surprisingly little will fall victim to the wrecking ball.
“We’re saving the original 1904 structure. It’s the original U-shape building before things were added on,” she said. “We’re planning on taking down most of the non-historically relevant structures, but as far as the historic structures go, we’re going to do everything in our power to save them.” The Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.
The preservation effort has been aided by Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema, who has awarded a bid for about $1.1 million for roof work to protect the asset and prevent further deterioration of the east and west wings, as well as the north end.
Koney said Phase 1 of the rehabilitation will likely cost between $25 million and $30 million, funds that will cover big-ticket items such as foundation stabilization, roofing, mechanical, electrical and plumbing.
The Mill is vying to secure grant and loan monies from a variety of sources including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Others include the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Land Bank and the Vicksburg Brownfield Authority’s Local Brownfield Remediation Fund, Koney added.
Koney said she has been so involved with the project over the past two years, she can close her eyes and envision what it will look like. The vision was confirmed when a master plan was drafted by Ann Arbor-based architect Hopkins Burns Design Studio in partnership with Johnson Hill Land Ethics Studio, Frederick Construction, Paper City Development and others.
The property will have two main entrances. One will be at its north end, beyond Bridge Organics, off West Washington Street. An additional entrance will be developed at the south end off West Highway Street.
Paper City Development’s corporate office is on the second floor of the Community Center in downtown Vicksburg.