The way Wes Kelley sees it, transforming the old Eagle & Phenix textile mill into modern-day condos and apartments is akin to restoring a bit of the city’s colorful past.
“We got a guy to count all of the rings that were inside one of the historic, heavy timbers and he counted out to 175,” the Brasfield & Gorrie vice president and division manager said Friday. “So that means that particular piece of wood was 175 years old when it got cut down out of a tree and shaped into a beam. And that mill was built around 1860.”
That would date the pine tree seedlings from which the beams were made to around the year 1685 — nearly a century before the American Revolution would spark the creation of the United States of America. It’s that historic significance of the Eagle & Phenix and the materials with which it was built that helped earn the property an award as the “best” renovation and restoration project in the Southeast.
Eagle & Phenix general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie submitted the entry for the annual contest by Engineering News-Record, a construction trade publication and website. The honor will appear in ENR’s November issue and be presented Nov. 8 at a “Best Projects Awards” luncheon in Orlando, Fla.
Kelley said he and his Columbus crew were “super thrilled” by the honor and their work on this mid-1800s-era textile mill, which was closed as an active factory a decade ago and bought by Columbus-based W.C. Bradley Co. for a $50 million, 10-year restoration effort.
The “best project” award specifically came for work performed on Mill No. 2, the structure closest to the 13th Street Bridge that connects Columbus and Phenix City. It has been turned into 44 apartments that are now 100 percent leased.
This was the second time Brasfield & Gorrie has received recognition for the Mill No. 2 project. It earned first place earlier this year in the annual Build Georgia Awards held by the group, Associated General Contractors of Georgia.
“We’ve done very few of the historic renovations. So for us to get our hands on it and get to do one was a really great opportunity,” Kelley said of the overall Eagle & Phenix project, which has included converting Mill No. 3 — closest to the large water tower — into 91 condominiums for sale. Some of the condos have been combined into one, leaving 83 total units today, with only 11 remaining for purchase.
Brasfield & Gorrie is now working on Mill No. 1, with work to be completed by early 2014, putting 29 more apartments on the downtown market.
One of the major challenges throughout the overall construction project has been making certain that the large, red-brick buildings are structurally sound and safe, Kelley said.
“We did a lot of structural steel clips and anchored through bolts into a lot of the beams and columns just to make sure all of the wood was still intact,” he said. “We actually took an epoxy resin and injected it into the wood just to make sure the cracks weren’t too deep.”
At the peak of construction on Mill No. 2, he said, there were about 55 workers on site. Adding in project managers, support staff for sub-contractors, architects and engineers pushed that number up to around 90.
All of the specialized construction skills were represented, he said.
“We had masons, plumbers, electricians, drywall guys, painters, flooring, it was all inclusive,” Kelley said.
Leah Braxton, vice president and broker with W.C. Bradley’s Real Estate Division, said the entire Eagle & Phenix project has been sobering because of its sheer magnitude.
“I’m not sure people in Columbus realize it, but it is a huge undertaking,” she said. “This was a huge historic saving of some important mills in our community that could have easily been demolished.”
The condos and apartments come with scenic views of the Chattahoochee River or the city’s downtown, with access to the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, nearby restaurants, shops and nightlife. And this year, adjacent to the Eagle & Phenix, the churning whitewater course created recreational opportunities.
But the price for the historic rooms with a view don’t come cheap. The apartments start at around $900 per month, topping out at $2,000 monthly. Of the condos remaining for sale, the least expensive is $179,900; the pricier ones are $529,900.
“I’ve got three unlisted condos that will go for more than that,” said Braxton, noting the apartments have a constant waiting list.