TSYS to restore historic Mott House overlooking Chattahoochee River

Project will take 18 months to turn 1840s-era home into company conference center, boardroom

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 20, 2013 

The Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House is a survivor. And now the historic structure on the TSYS campus overlooking the Chattahoochee River is about to gain new life with a major renovation.

Work is scheduled to begin in October on the property — commonly referred to as the Mott House — and take about 18 months to complete. It then will become a conference center for TSYS clients, as well as a new place to meet for the credit-card processor’s board of directors.

“When we’re done, it will have approximately 13,000 square feet,” TSYS spokesman Cyle Mims said Tuesday. “It’s going to include a kitchen facility and a dining room, a history room, six conference rooms, and a new state-of-the-art boardroom.”

The publicly traded company, which opened its $100 million downtown campus in 1999, declined to disclose the price tag for the restoration project. The Ledger-Enquirer reported in 1997 that the firm spent $1.5 million to shore up the stately antebellum home and keep its structural condition from worsening.

“There were a number of days that we had to hold our breath to make sure the thing didn’t collapse on us,” said Jim Buntin, a retired Synovus Financial Corp. executive who oversaw the TSYS campus project.

The Mott House was built in 1841 and home to Columbus businessmen James Calhoun and Daniel Griffin before being bought by its most colorful and prominent inhabit, Randolph Lawler Mott, a serial entrepreneur and Union sympathizer. He purchased it in 1856.

The three-story home would eventually become surrounded by a growing textile mill, with names that included Muscogee Mills and Fieldcrest Cannon. The structure ultimately was walled in on three sides, with only its front exposed after being turned into office space for the mills.

The Mott House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. That designation for it and the surrounding mill structures drew the ire of historic preservationists when TSYS decided to build its large campus.

The house at one point was seriously considered for demolition. But it and nearby City Mills, the community’s oldest mill, were saved from the wrecking ball. City Mills, just north of the TSYS headquarters building, has yet to be restored.

“Our plans were to do the project all at once, to take down the surrounding walls and redo the Mott House at the same time,” said Buntin, pointing out an effort to use federal tax credits for the restoration in 1998 was rebuffed by the National Historic Preservation Society.

“We were going to go ahead and do the job,” he said of the entire Mott House rehab. “But we weren’t able to do it at the time, which in my opinion was a real shame.”

Instead, the brick home has sat empty for more than 15 years. The exterior is in relatively good condition, with some flaking paint and a broken window here or there.

The interior, however, is a blend of musty odor, dust and cobwebs, with the walls of the large, high-ceiling rooms stripped bare. There are metal stairways that were installed as the house was being stabilized by TSYS. An enclosed cupola at the top offers a panoramic view of the Chattahoochee River and Phenix City on one side and the card processor’s corporate offices on the other.

Debbie Avery, assistant director of facilities at TSYS, said the structure has weathered the long delay in its physical renewal relatively well.

“We haven’t had any leaks since this house was boarded up 15 years ago,” said Avery, who worked with Buntin and is passionate about the Mott House being transformed into a vibrant hub of activity once again. She sees it as a future showcase for the company.

“The latest and greatest in technology we hope to have here, so when our board members and our clients come, they’ll understand we’re truly a technology company,” she said.

Buntin, who praised TSYS for its stabilization work years ago and its decision to fully restore the property now, said he will wait until the finished product is completed to venture inside the Mott House again.

“I’m sure they’ll be able to do a wonderful job,” he said. “I think it’s quite a feather in TSYS’s cap to now renovate that building because it’s truly a treasure for Columbus.”

Aside from needing more conference and meeting space, Mims said TSYS is making the investment with the momentum of downtown Columbus in mind.

Mott House visitors will have a closeup view of the whitewater course on the river, as well as the 14th Street pedestrian bridge that links Columbus to Phenix City, where Troy University will start soon on a new campus complemented by a Courtyard Marriott hotel.

The architect for the project is Columbus-based Hecht Burdeshaw Architects. The contractor is Thayer-Bray Construction, also of Columbus. Atlanta-based studio A2 architecture + interiors will be the interior designer.

A MAN NAMED MOTT

The Mott House was built in 1841 and was home to Columbus businessmen James Calhoun and Daniel Griffin before being bought by its most colorful and prominent inhabit, Randolph Lawler Mott. He purchased it in 1856.

The Virginia native had his hand in numerous ventures and activities. Those included a horse racing track, a stagecoach business and a railroad company, according to Columbus State University archives.

A Union sympathizer during the Civil War, he was a real estate investor with slaves who also owned a plantation in Russell County. He purchased a textile mill near his home in 1857, a property that would be spared from a torching by Union troops during the final days of the war. Union Gen. James Wilson used it as a headquarters during the 1865 Battle of Columbus.

Mott would eventually become mayor pro tem of Columbus and a trustee of the Freedman’s Bureau, the insane asylum in Milledgeville, Ga. He was killed after falling in front of a train in Atlanta in 1881, with his body being transported back to Columbus for burial in Linwood Cemetery. Mott was just shy of his 82nd birthday when he died.

The Mott House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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