The Historic Columbus Foundation has joined forces with a Columbus attorney to save two crumbling mill buildings on the Chattahoochee riverfront.
The foundation has committed $1.2 million to stabilize City Mills, one of the city’s first industrial sites, said Executive Director Elizabeth Barker. The effort will be the signature project for the organization’s 50th anniversary next year.
“The initial phase that our board has approved is to stabilize them, which means to make sure they are safe when you walk in,” Barker said of the buildings.
“The building that is closest to First Avenue, unfortunately, has a large hole in its roof, so there will be a lot more stabilization work on that structure.”
The buildings have been on Historic Columbus’ priority list for 15 years. The chance to save them came in May when attorney Ken Henson Jr., purchased the 18th Street property just north of TSYS. Henson paid $800,000 to Bonnydoon LLLP. The family of Lloyd G. Bowers III owned the site for nearly a half century.The nonprofit Historic Columbus Foundation started in 1966. One of its most important projects was to save the Spring Opera House. This endeavor is just as important, Barker said.
“It symbolizes, I think, a lot of what Historic Columbus is about and represents, because of its significance,” Barker said. “But if we don’t save it at this point, it will be lost for the future, and having those structures still standing and becoming viable again is really what we’re all about.”
Henson said Historic Columbus is the best partner.
“I knew they wanted to participate,” Henson said. “But I would have still purchased the property even if they did not participate.”
Historic Columbus will use part of a $1.5 million gift from the estate of Weezie Butler to fund the work. The foundation will also use the project in a fundraising effort, Barker said.
Over the years, pieces of what was once a 13-acre tract have been demolished, sold or donated to the whitewater project, riverwalks on both sides of the Chattahoochee and the TSYS campus. The City Mills dam and 99 acres of riverbed were sold for $1.4 million to Uptown Columbus Inc., in April 2008.
After the property was sold piecemeal, it left two historic buildings on less than two acres of prime Chattahoochee River real estate. Still standing were a six-story flour mill built in 1890 and a five-story warehouse built in 1910. Off the flour mill is a shed that reaches out into the river.
Two things have to happen before the property can be reused.
“First, and foremost, you have to stabilize it,” Henson said. “Then we have to work out a plan with the city for public access, a way to connect the RiverWalk.”
The Chattahooche RiverWalk that runs from north Columbus to Fort Benning has two disconnects. One is at City Mills. Previously the city planned to cut the path through the middle of the property. Henson would like to see an alternative route, and has been meeting with city officials to discuss it.
“Once you get it stabilized and get the RiverWalk settled, then you really have something that you can show somebody,” Henson said.
City Mills was one of five mill sites included in the Columbus Industrial Riverfront National Landmark District, according to the Historic Columbus Foundation. The property is the last remaining endangered site of the five mills, and it is nationally significant for its hydropower development, milling machinery development and architecture.
That’s why Historic Columbus is helping bring the site back to life.“It is the most significant building left in Columbus to restore of its kind,” Barker said