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The City of Danville and The Alexander Company held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday to celebrate the commencement of construction that will transform the long vacant White Mill in Danville’s River District from its original role as part of a sprawling textile operation along the Dan River into a community hub with a mixture of complementary uses including housing, office, and retail, nestled within a planned new riverfront park to be enjoyed by all.
At the ceremony, “Dan River Falls” was unveiled as the site’s new identity. The name is a nod to Dan River Fabrics, the textile powerhouse of which the White Mill was a part; Wynne’s Falls, the name of the first settlement along the river that became Danville; and the use of the Dan River, the banks on which the mill building sits, as an economic engine.
Mayor Alonzo Jones made the announcement and proclaimed Thursday as “Dan River Falls Day” in the city.
“This monumental redevelopment effort that we celebrate today is injecting new energy and investment into a site that was left behind,” Jones said of the mill building, which was Dan River Mill No. 8 but had been commonly referred to as the “White Mill.” “Rather than cling to the name “White Mill,” we celebrate the site’s history along the Dan River and look toward its future.”
In a public-private partnership with the Danville Industrial Development Authority, The Alexander Company will restore the iconic 550,000-square-foot structure. Upon completion. Dan River Falls will provide 147,000 square feet of commercial space and 150 units of housing, of which 32 will be reserved for individuals and families earning up to 80% of area median incomes. The apartments will be built on the top three floors of the western two-thirds of the building and will include one-, two-, and three-bedroom homes. The first floor and the eastern one-third of the second floor will be reserved for commercial space, with the lower level of the building being converted into 219 interior parking spaces for tenants.
The Alexander Company has over 40 years’ experience specializing in historic preservation, urban infill development, and urban revitalization. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, The Alexander Company gives new life to historically significant buildings and downtown neighborhoods nationwide. Learn more at alexandercompany.com.
“When this is done two years from now, we will have a real party to celebrate this $85 million investment,” said Joe Alexander, president of The Alexander Company. “The City (of Danville) should know its staff is remarkable. This would not be happening here without its perseverance. … Thank you for your faith in us. We have faith in you, and this will be a great project.”
The Industrial Development Authority (IDA) works in cooperation with the City and its Economic Development Office to promote and facilitate redevelopment activities in the River District by the purchase, renovation, and subsequent lease or sale of real estate sites throughout the district.
IDA Chairman T. Neal Morris talked about the many partners involved in the project. They are The Alexander Company: project developer, owner, and architect; Danville Industrial Development Authority: co-developer, owner, and sublessor; Rehab Builders: general contractor; Rehab Engineering: MEP engineer; Timmons Group: civil engineer; Site Collaborative: landscape architecture; Dewberry: surveyor; Cardno: environmental; investors and lenders: JP Morgan Chase, Commonwealth Advisors, American National Bank & Trust, Virginia Community Capital, Sterling Bank, and the Virginia Housing Development Authority.
“I am convinced that if any one of the organizations had not been involved, then we wouldn’t be here today,” Morris said. “This is a great day for Danville. … We need you (the community) to be partners. … Be a team member. Promote Danville. Be a cheerleader.”
City Manager Ken Larking said the project is an example of a city seeing what is possible and being ready to make it happen.
“From today forward, this building will be the backdrop for a story about hope and the clearest evidence yet that Danville is experiencing a remarkable resurgence,” Larking said.
River District Association Executive Director Diana Schwartz said someone had once questioned her about the investments being made in the downtown area, and if those were only benefitting a few.
“Today, that is no longer a question,” she said. “We have proof that these investments benefit us all. Reinvestment in your historic downtown is one of the most important investments that you can make to improve quality of life in your community.”
The redevelopment of the roughly 550,000-square-foot White Mill is one of the largest tax-credit projects that's currently under way in Virginia in its scale and its investment, said Julie Langan, state historic preservation officer with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
"We have certified 42 historic tax-credit projects, with a total investment of just over $155 million," Langan said.
The building is listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.
"This project will restore utility and vitality to an important yet long-vacant historic building, while making a major impact on and a contribution to Danville's economic health," Langan said. "That's what the tax-credit program is all about."
Virginia Housing will help finance 150 apartment homes to support Danville's economic growth, said David Glassman, assistant director of rental housing development with Virginia Housing.
"For working families and other Virginians who call Danville home, finding a great place to live that is also affordable can be a challenge," Glassman said. "Like so many growing communities around the commonwealth, there are often limited affordable choices."
Former Dan River employee Randy Hedrick Jr. also spoke, recalling the days when the mill provided families with a good living and a sense of community. He started working at the mill when he was 15 years old. Working in the mills, he said, was more than a way to make a living, it was a way of life.
“I worked in practically every part of this building at one point or another,” Hedrick said. “It gives me great pleasure that this building is going to remain standing and see a new life.”