By Rob Peterson
The Mill at Vicksburg overcame a significant hurdle this month with state approval of Michigan’s new Transformational Brownfield Plan incentives (see accompanying story on page 3). With that approval came new details of the project.
All of the 120-acre Mill property will be open to the public. The west end will offer 80 acres of open space and wetlands with interpretive trails and room for potential larger cultural events, all of which will make Vicksburg a regional destination when the project is complete.
Other outdoor eventspaces will include a beer garden, located at the north end of the complex where a portion of the building caught fire several years ago; and the courtyard, a secondary space for cultural events and large gatherings, created by the three wings of the Mill.
The east side of the property is bounded by a creek that runs from Sunset Lake to Barton Lake. In the 1960s, it ran milky white from by-products of the paper making process. Contamination and debris in the creek will be removed as part of the project. New walkways with overlooks will meander along the creek’s edge.
“We want the project to talk a lot about water,” said Paper City Development Chief Operating Officer Jackie Koney. “Paper making required a lot of water, and the process was hard on the environment. We’re going to restore the waterways around the Mill and keep them clean.”
The outdoor space will include water features along the walkways and terraces and architects are exploring using some of the accessory structures in the final design: The foundation of the former screw-press building may become a fountain, and the site of the former wastewater treatment clarifier could become a creek overlook.
The plans for the interior of the mill are also ambitious, with a number of uses planned. The 100-plus-year-old mill building is actually several buildings constructed over many generations totaling 419,000 square feet under roof, making this the largest commercial project in Kalamazoo County in decades.
“An historic manufacturing building is unique because of the wide-open spaces,” says Gene Hopkins of HopkinsBurns Design Studio, the architect for the Mill. “You can put many different uses into space like this, but you must set up the building so that it can naturally evolve over the next 100 years.”
The west wing of the mill, the tallest structure at five stories, will house a 40-room boutique hotel and 40 one- and two-bedroom apartments. In the northern portion of the mill is the former machine room, where concerts will be performed under a massive crane that will be preserved as an architectural feature.
The east wing will house a massive indoor event space which will total over 150,000 square feet – for comparison, Wings Stadium is roughly one third the size. “We will be competing with Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis for events,” says owner Chris Moore. Vicksburg is within a day’s drive of one-third of the country’s population, and “We have the space and we can bring these events here with the right team in place.”
Part of that team is Brian Bastien, the general manager of Brewery Operations, who has extensive experience in restaurant and brewery management. The first element of the Mill to emerge will be the brewery, so having him in place early is essential to the project’s success.
“Our first job is to hire an awesome brewer and distiller, who we hope to have in place within six months,” says Bastien. “We’ve already found our executive chef, Vuong Loc. He’s the executive chef at Starbucks and he’s won “Beat Bobby Flay”, a popular TV cooking contest. He is a Vicksburg native working in Seattle.”
How Chef Vuong Loc became involved with the Mill is an interesting story. Moore noticed a restaurant opening up in his Seattle neighborhood called “Portage.” Intrigued, he asked a server about the name, and she answered that the chef grew up near Portage, Michigan. When Moore met Loc, he discovered that “near Portage” meant Vicksburg.
The entire Mill at Vicksburg project is an interesting story, and it is one that continues to evolve. The first elements, including the brewery, will likely open by late 2021, with the remainder of the project coming to fruition by 2024. “It all has to be completed within five years to make it right with the National Historic Preservation designation,” says Moore.