Adaptive Reuse in North Carolina

A century after the “Cotton Mill Campaign” began and over the same amount of time that it developed, the textile and apparel industry in North Carolina withered. Foreign competition, international trade agreements, changes in import quotas, the admission of China, Vietnam, and other low-wage manufacturing countries to the WTO combined in the 1980s and 1990s to drive hundreds of U.S. textile companies out of business. In North Carolina alone between 1982 and 1985, seventy-six plants closed putting 10,000 textile workers out of a job. The second largest textile producing state in the country, North Carolina lost more textile jobs and closed more plants than any other state. Between 1996 and 2006, fifty-five percent of its apparel plants closed, and its textile workforce dropped from 233,000 to 80,000.

Rocky Mount Mills’ farewell to the city of Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount Telegram, 6 May 1996)

The effects of the collapse of the textile industry in North Carolina cascaded through hundreds of small towns: unemployment soared; municipal tax bases shrank; small businesses that served mill communities failed. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the landscape of Piedmont North Carolina was pockmarked by abandoned textile plants, derelict mill houses, and boarded-up storefronts. Some plants and houses were demolished, but many stood as mute reminders of a bygone way of life.

View looking out, Rocky Mount Mills, pre-completion

However, a number of communities responded by initiating discussions among civic and business leaders, community groups, property developers, and historic preservation organizations to explore the repurposing of textile plants and the revitalization of mill villages. The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program had been in place since 1976, offering tax credits for the rehabilitation of “historic, income-producing buildings.” In 1998, the State of North Carolina expanded its program of historic tax credits.

Since 1998, North Carolina has been a national leader in historic rehabilitation projects. Between 1998 and 2013, some 2164 adaptive reuse projects were completed, representing an investment of $1.36 billion. In 2011, the state was third in the nation in the number of such projects. 

Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC) of Raleigh, N.C., purchased the Rocky Mount Mills site in 2007, including mill buildings and other industrial structures (300,000 square feet), thirty mill houses, the seven-acre island in the Tar River that had once served as a recreation area, and 30 vacant lots in the mill village – a total of 60 acres.

Interior, Rocky Mount Mills, pre-completion

Capitol Broadcasting is developing the site as a mixed-use campus, with loft-style apartments; retail, commercial, dining, and event space; a craft brewing incubator; community garden; “rails to trails” greenway; riverside walk; and arts maker space for ceramics, woodwork, and metal craft. Houses in the mill village have been restored for rental purposes. There will be tiny homes available for overnight accommodation. The complex is scheduled to open in late 2018, in time for the mill’s bicentennial, with full completion planned for the second quarter of 2019.

Read more about their vision for the mill here: