By Jef Rietsma
Plans for the $60 million redevelopment of the former Simpson Paper Co. mill are falling into place. Transformation could begin in earnest this spring, said project manager Jackie Koney.
Koney, at the November meeting of the Vicksburg Rotary Club, said she remains optimistic the property will return to the prominence of its heyday, though in a far different capacity.
“There were as many as 300 people working at the mill in the past and we want to have that many people working there again … working and living,” Koney said. “This is a multi-use facility we’re planning; there are going to be apartments, office space, event space, multiple food- and beverage-production facilities, beer gardens. There’s just a lot to this place.”
Koney cautioned that design plans she showed during her speech remain subject to change. A few definite plans, however, are in place.
For example, outbuildings without historical value will be demolished.
From the time Paper City Development’s president, Chris Moore, started planning redevelopment three years ago, the former mill has been the site of plenty of work. Koney said a huge step was securing a spot in the National Register of Historic Places. The designation allows the project to qualify for federal tax credits to supplement the project’s expense.
A master plan was completed in 2016. Emergency roof repairs are being conducted, and a fair amount of cleanup has taken place.
“For example, the building is free and clear of asbestos,” Koney said. “There’s still lead paint, but all of the rest of the contamination inside the building is taken care of. There’s still some contamination on the property that we need to deal with, however.”
After the paper company left, a series of owners spent no money on maintenance and left the mill exposed to the elements. Because of that, there is serious damage to the roofs, leaving the building vulnerable to damage, untenable for redevelopment and at risk of losing its status on the National Register of Historic Places. Emergency roof repair, including replacing 10 24-foot-long support beams on the east wing, is almost completed.
As a “brownfield” site, the property has numerous obstacles to redevelopment, including the presence of contamination, blighted and dilapidated structures, and outdated infrastructure. Paper City Development is working with its contractors, the MDEQ and MEDC to develop plans to address these issues and secure funding assistance to resolve these obstacles not typically found on a “greenfield” site. This is in addition to being eligible for historic tax credits to help pay for the planned historic preservation activities at the site. It is Moore’s intent to restore the mill in a manner that celebrates the legacy of the site and its place in the history of the Village of Vicksburg and larger paper-making industry of the region.
Koney, who has known Moore for more than 30 years, said she has no doubt his heart is fully into the project – and it remains with the Village of Vicksburg.
“Chris loves the mill. He loves it for many reasons including the fact that his grandfather Gordon Moore and his dad Tim Moore worked there for most of their careers. He worked there in the summers during college and it’s a beautiful, important, iconic building and it meant a lot to this community,” Koney said.
Moore stepped in after plans were presented to demolish the mill, which closed in 2001.
Koney said Moore lives in Seattle and owns Old Stove Brewing Company in the city’s historic Pike Place Market development. Old Stove Brewing (named after an old Kalamazoo Stove) will be the first tenant at the redeveloped mill and is projected to be open for business in late 2019.She shared details of an economic-impact analysis conducted by Washington, D.C.-based specialist Michael Shuman. She said rough figures show the project will create at least 200 construction jobs over a three-year period and will support more than 1,200 new jobs in the first five years of operation. The result? Koney predicted $182 million in new wages, $357 million in new value added, and $55 million in new state and local taxes.
“I love this quote that he provided in his draft report,” she said. “It says, ‘Very few economic-development projects of this magnitude simultaneously clean up a polluted site, restore historically important buildings, create hundreds of high-paying jobs and attract tens of thousands of visitors. All of these features complement rather than compete with other economic-development initiatives in the region.’”
Koney said part of the appeal to Old Stove Brewing in Vicksburg will be the opportunity for guests to see where products used in the beer-making process come from.
“The idea is to make this a destination for people interested in knowing how stuff gets made, so they’ll be able to go out onto the adjacent 80 acres and see what hops, barley, wheat and rye, etc. look like. Then they’ll be able to come into the facility and there will be a malt-processing facility, a hops-processing facility, yeast cultivation, equipment manufacturing and brewing. It’s going to be a situation where people can see how the whole process is done and then they can go and drink their beer,” she said.
Koney, who delivered a similar presentation to the Vicksburg Lions Club, said there is good reason to be optimistic about the redevelopment.
“Obviously, it’s easier to build a new building on a green property that has no contamination than to rehab an old building on a brownfield property that has contamination. But I think people will be interested in visiting, and living in – and will even hear about Vicksburg in the first place – because of the old mill,” Koney said. “Everybody can have a new building; not everybody can have the Vicksburg Mill. It’s the only one there is.”