Two out-of-town developers are involved in a project to utilize property formerly occupied by the Spencer’s Inc. textile firm in downtown Mount Airy, officials say.
However, Bob Nixon, of Concord — one of the two — declined to supply details Wednesday about what is envisioned for the former manufacturing facilities that have sat silent in recent years.
“It’s a little too early,” said Nixon, who is associated with an entity known as RWN Properties. Explaining that the project is still in the “formative stages” at this point, Nixon added, “I don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.”
The other person linked to the potential redevelopment of the Spencer’s property is Ray “Rip” Farris III, a Charlotte real estate developer and architect who specializes in revamping undervalued real estate assets for new uses.
A Web site for Farris’ company, IKE Development, claims that he has added “millions in residential and commercial value” to Charlotte since 1995, including 2.7 million square-feet of health care, office facility, retail and housing design space.
Nixon and Farris are working together on a project that would involve 11 acres of the Spencer’s property, according to Martin Collins, Mount Airy’s community development coordinator. Overall, the former industrial complex includes 27 different buildings concentrated in the Willow Street area.
The longtime infant and children’s wear manufacturer ceased production about three years ago, leaving the vacant structures behind.
In August 2008, City Manager Don Brookshire told members of the local media that a major complex involving utilization of Spencer’s properties was being eyed for downtown Mount Airy. At that time, a convention center, apartments, offices and retail space were among the facilities listed.
But in declining to elaborate Wednesday about what he and Farris are planning now, Nixon would not say if any of those features are envisioned at the site.
“We are in the process of putting our plans together right now,” Nixon said. “It’s premature. We’re doing our due-diligence and it’s premature to formulate an opinion at this time.”
The potential redevelopment of the former Spencer’s Inc. properties surfaced in the winter of 2008 when owner Jim Crossingham of Mount Airy advised city officials that he would be interested in talking to developers about new uses for the structures.
“I’ve known Mr. Crossingham for a long time,” said Nixon, who indicated that he and Farris have done much legwork in Mount Airy regarding the potential project.
“The people in town have been wonderful to work with — the local government is wonderful,” he said. “I’m very pleased with how this has gone up there.”
Nixon said that if the effort reaches fruition, it would include involvement not only by the city government but that of Surry County and the local business community.
The developers are proceeding in a methodical manner at this point, he added. “We’re working hard on it.”
Nixon believes the city has much potential for an ambitious project. “Mount Airy is a neat town.”
The Spencer’s property downtown is on a list of “brownfield” sites in Surry County. That inclusion offers a boost to its redevelopment potential, according to Byron Brown, economic land-user planner for the Northwest Piedmont Council of Governments in Winston-Salem.
The organization is managing a brownfields program in Surry and three other area counties, which seeks new uses for former industrial and commercial sites now idle and vacant. The term brownfields refer to lands previously used for those purposes which possibly have been contaminated by waste or pollution, but are good candidates for alternate uses once any hazardous substances are removed.
Officials of the Council of Governments formed a coalition to identify locations in Surry and the other counties which pose a risk to public health and the environment while also possessing economic-development potential. Federal grants as well as property tax breaks are available for qualifying local sites through the program.
Those who qualify for a brownfield agreement can receive technical aid to redevelop those lands in addition to the grants and tax incentives. Developers also are offered liability protection regarding sites that have been contaminated.
Brown said that property once housing textile operations tends to be contaminated due to the chemicals used in various industrial processes, listing former dry-cleaning locations and landfills as other types of brownfield areas.
He added that the Spencer’s property as well as additional sites in Surry County eyed for redevelopment, including that of Chatham Manufacturing in Elkin, are at a Phase I stage of the brownfield program.
Brown explained that the Council of Governments is in the process of selecting environmental consultants to determine the degree of any contamination at those locations.
Evidence of pollutants could lead to a second phase in which the level of contamination would be confirmed and identified through soil sampling and similar steps. Monies are available through the brownfield program to clean up sites targeted for re-use.
Contact Tom Joyce at email@example.com or at 719-1924.