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Two old powerhouses on the Chattahoochee River to find new life as an event venue

Renovation of historic powerhouses at Eagle & Phenix site nearly complete

The renovation of the two powerhouses at the Eagle & Phenix complex on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia is nearly complete. Here's a quick tour showing where construction stands, and a look at the amazing view from the site.
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The renovation of the two powerhouses at the Eagle & Phenix complex on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia is nearly complete. Here's a quick tour showing where construction stands, and a look at the amazing view from the site.

The W.C. Bradley Co. is making an investment in excess of $3 million to turn two historic powerhouses that sit on an island in the Chattahoochee River into a one-of-a-kind event venue.

The project should be completed in the next two months with a charity event already booked into the facility for mid-October, said W.C. Bradley Real Estate Division President Pace Halter.

The two powerhouses were built in 1899 and 1900, according to research done by Columbus historian John S. Lupold for the Historic American Engineering Record.

The powerhouses are the final piece of a 15-year project to turn the 1800s-era mill into a mixed-use complex of condos, apartments, restaurant, retail and office space, said W.C. Bradley Co. President and Chief Executive Officer Marc Olivié. The privately held Columbus company purchased the textile mill complex in 2003 from Pillowtex Corp. as it was going out of business.

The powerhouses generated hydro electricity into this century.

“This is the last piece, but it was also the most difficult piece,” Olivié said this week. “The powerhouses are not an easy place to work in or convert. That is one of the reasons we did this piece last. Now, I think we have saved the best for last.”

The remaining 7 acres north of the 13th Street bridge that was part of the W.C. Bradley Co. 2003 purchase will be filled with new construction. A luxury apartment complex — The Rapids — with a ground-floor retail and restaurant space is currently under construction adjacent to the bridge. It is scheduled to be completed next year.

While the new construction takes place to the north, the repurposing of the powerhouse has been under way for several months, hardly visible except for those who live in the nearly condominiums and apartments or those who use the Chattahoochee River Walk.

All of the power generating equipment has been removed and the two powerhouses are essentially open space that can be used for weddings, corporate gatherings, charity events and a wide variety of other activities.

A small catering area and storage facility has been added to the lower powerhouse, the one closest to the Chattahoochee River Club. Two large bathrooms have also been built in that building. Two bathrooms have been added to the upper powerhouse, as well as a concrete deck.

“Clearly, it is a dedicated event space,” Halter said last week during a tour of the two powerhouses. “That’s the intent and will be for the foreseeable future. We’re in the process of determining if we’re going to run it ourselves or if we’re going to hire it out.”

But, for now, the company is leaning toward managing the event center internally.

“That does not mean that we’re getting into the event business,” Halter said. “We just own the venue and coordinate and facilitate events in the event space.”

W.C. Bradley is still working on rental rates for the property. The leasing agreements will likely be managed by the company’s property management group, Halter said.

Many of the top event venues in Columbus have dedicated food-service arrangements, but that will not be the case at the powerhouses, at least in the beginning, Halter said. Initially, people who rent the space will be able to use a caterer they select.

The powerhouses are located directly behind Mill No. 3, which houses 83 condominiums, office space and Epic Restaurant, which is owned and operated by Jamie Keating.

Jamie Keating Culinary would seem to be a logical fit, but there is currently no deal. There have been discussions about the powerhouse space with Keating, who managed RiverMill Event Centre in Bibb City until he lost the lease earlier this year, Halter said.

“We have had that conversation several times with Jamie,” Halter said. “And we’re just not to the point ... where he’s ready to commit or we’re ready to commit.”

As general contractors work on the finishing touches, Halter was clear that W.C. Bradley is still considering its options.

“My preference would be to try to find a scenario where we didn’t have to manage the facility,” Halter said. “I wish I didn’t have to have our team worrying about coordinating security and all the aspects that come with a private event, particularly for a group of 400 to 500 people. But that may just be something that we need to do and we’re prepared to do.”

About three months ago, W.C. Bradley held a private party in the area between the two powerhouses and was able to seat about 375 people, Halter said.

“We probably could have pushed it to 400 if we had needed to,” Halter said. “You’re not going to seat 400 inside in either one of the buildings — I’m not sure that you could seat 400 in both buildings. So, obviously, to maximize the capacity, the way we structured that event, we had kind of a bar and cocktail reception area inside, and the dinner was outside.”

The buildings offer a great deal of flexibility to do events inside the historic structures or in the lawn and deck areas around the buildings, Halter said.

There are some limitations that will be placed on events because the powerhouses are part of the Eagle & Phenix complex. One of those is there can be no “projected sound” after 11 p.m., Halter said. That is one of the reasons W.C. Bradley is taking caution in the management of the venue, Halter said.

“We have a significant investment of both residents, in terms of owners and in terms of renters, this is absolutely part of that,” Halter said.

The redevelopment of the powerhouses has been worth the wait, Halter said, and the use could be modified as W.C. Bradley figures out how to best use the space.

“The investment in the building from acquisition to renovation is a significant number and that’s no different from any historical building when you get into it,” he said. “There are always surprises. So if you don’t go into it with a very long-term approach, you’re in for a surprise. For us, it is absolutely a long-term approach and, ultimately, it might not be an event center. You know, I’d love to think that someday it’s a private restaurant. Not a private club, but a dedicated restaurant where it’s controlled by one restaurateur. I think it’d be a fabulous setting for it as well.”

For now, Olivié is pleased that people will get a chance to use and enjoy the space.

“I see it as the most fabulous space in Columbus, right in the river, overlooking the rapids,” Olivié said. “It is an absolutely wonderful reuse of the buildings.”

Note: The Ledger-Enquirer identified Columbus restaurateur Jamie Keating as a businessman “who managed RiverMill Event Centre in Bibb City until he lost his lease earlier this year.” Through his attorney, Trip Tomlinson, Keating asked for a clarification. “Jamie Keating Culinary d/b/a RiverMill Café and Event Centre was a tenant at 3715 First Avenue in Bibb City and operated its event and catering business from there until the lease was lost earlier this year,” Tomlinson wrote.