STATUS: Project just unveiled
A crazy-hot Friday afternoon finds Matt McPheely striding through a vast, empty space that once housed a bakery and a windows manufacturer. Today, on a rough corner in hard-hit Poe Mill, he unveils a project designed to weave into the very fabric of the old textile village.
“It’s not just a run-of-the-mill office space and a co-working space and a random restaurant,” McPheely says of Chapel, a $6 million development at 1505 Buncombe Road. “I want to work closely with the community, with the people who work here, live here — that this is something they feel ownership over, that they have a say here.”
The developer/entrepreneur has already talked with a couple of Poe Mill leaders, including Jerry Blassingame, executive director of Soteria Community Development Corp., three blocks away on Shaw Street.
“This community was built by the mill, where people lived, worked, and played,” he says. “That’s a great structure, and downtown’s got it, but we need something for low- to moderate-income people that feel like they belong.”
McPheely expects Chapel to open in 2020 in what’s been designated an Opportunity Zone. Part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, these zones offer tax incentives for development in under-resourced neighborhoods.
Built in 1897 just off Buncombe Road near the railroad tracks, Poe Mill shuttered in 1977 during the great textile implosion that gutted the Upstate’s leading manufacturing base. The mill burned down in 2003. Mill villages were always poor — most stayed that way.
“You’ve heard the overused term, ‘The rising tide lifts all boats?’” says McPheely, 37. “I think that’s generally true, except most people don’t have boats. So this idea is one which I want there to be some thought into boat-building.”
Says Blassingame, “If it works and he can get buy-in from the community and it doesn’t gentrify, it would be great.”
He says he told McPheely, “There are a lot of people in this community who would love to work in the community, who would love to start their own business, but don’t have start-up capital or a place to build their own.”
At Chapel, whose name connotes more of a community vibe than a religious one, the development team — also behind Huguenot Mill and Markley Station — plans to include offices, an event space, a restaurant, and greenspace; McPheely cites the family-friendly lawn at Hampton Station.
All that’s fine, Blassingame says, as long as residents, not just leadership, are involved.
“This would be a great place where people who live in this community can say, ‘Hey, this was thought about. We were actually interviewed and some of our ideas were really placed into this project,’” he says, adding that if neighbors have ownership, equity, and jobs, “I think it’ll work.”
Kwadjo Campbell, a Marine Corps veteran, schoolteacher, former Charleston City Council member, and now president of the Poe Mill Neighborhood Association, says the project could go one better with a Community Benefits Agreement.
Created in the 1990s and “inspired by social-justice concerns,” these contracts between a developer and community stakeholders inspire mutual support and obviate gentrification, according to a 2008 paper. Provisions include local hiring, living-wage requirements, job-training, and the like. The most prominent example: the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“I like the idea that he would like to work with the community,” Campbell says. “As far as what kind of potential economic benefits for the residents in the community, just how we do that is always the crux of the matter.”
McPheely agrees. “I want to make sure this is seen as a resource for the community, to become a big part of it.”
Read about other Upstate mills revitalization updates
Revitalized Taylors Mill will be ‘year-round’ gathering space | New Elements revitalize struggling old mill village | Construction begins on Judson Mill’s transformation into multi-use space | Former Larkin’s COO takes charge of Drayton Mills events space | Greer Mill’s adaptive reuse project moving through rezoning process | Conestee Mill securing retail and office tenants | Woodside Mill, Greenville’s largest former mill, set for redevelopment—again