By Debbie Adams
The Gish Mill Redevelopment Project has been in the works in the Town of Vinton since 2015, when the town purchased the historic mill site from the Holdren family for $126,000 with two objectives: to rehabilitate and preserve the town’s founding structure (the mill appears on the Town Seal) and to create a leasable space for employment and new revenue generation.
The years 2016-2018 were spent on planning and environmental assessments using grant programs. In 2019, the town issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to which Gish Mish Davii, LLC, responded with a project that would convert the historic property into mixed use development, accommodating a restaurant (with indoor and outdoor dining and a wrap-around deck), a speakeasy in the basement, retail space (hopefully including an ice cream shop or seasonal market) and lodging. The contract of sale was signed on April 8, 2020.
In Fall 2020 the town was awarded grant funds of $250,000 from the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) and the Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund (ESHPF) for repair and stabilization work and $468,750 from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Industrial Revitalization Fund (IRF) in the form of a loan. (The property has been designated on both the Virginia and National Historic Registers.)
In June 2021, the town approved a Performance Agreement providing financial incentives with the developers, also approved by the Roanoke County Economic Development Authority (EDA).
In 2022, the project utilized $250,000 of the DHR resources to stabilize the creek bank, solidify and shore up the foundation, and repaint much of the visible historic brick. (The town was required to maintain ownership of the structure until the preservation grant was concluded.)
In July 2022, with skyrocketing costs in the construction industry worldwide, the developers approached the town to discuss filling the funding gap necessary to move the project forward. The parties came up with updated terms in an Amended Performance Agreement.
“The recent inflationary market, materials, labor costs, and interest rate hikes resulted in a funding gap that was previously unaccounted for when the original Performance Agreement was authorized in the spring of 2021,” Town Manager Pete Peters said. “Rather than allow the project to dissolve, town staff and the developers went back to work to find a means for the project to move forward.”
In October 2022, town council approved requests from Peters for authorization to execute an Amended Performance Agreement between the town, the Roanoke County EDA and Gish Mill Davii, LLC and to execute a Construction Loan and an IRF Loan among the three groups.
As part of the amended agreement, the town will provide a Development Incentive Grant in the amount of $398,750 for site work, gateway enhancements, and façade improvements to the structure as well as reimbursement of Utility Connection Fees and various Permitting fees.
The town will also utilize a Construction Loan to provide an additional $1 million in five equal installments at various stages of construction, with the final payment being made when the property receives an Occupancy Permit.
The project’s total cost is approximately $3.9 million. The developer has secured $2 million in private lending, resulting in just over half of the total investment–51% private funding, 49% public.
Developer David Hill of Gish Mill Davii LLC, says he and business partner David Trinkle are “hopeful that our team will be able to complete the financing documents and move forward with this important project in 2023.”
“A lot of people from Vinton—indeed all across the Roanoke Valley—have invested an extraordinary amount of time into this project,” Hill said. “We are grateful and humbled by all of this work. This dedication further demonstrates that Gish Mill is truly a community-building project and inspires me to affirm my commitment to push it over the bar to get into construction.”
“A lot of people have told me, ‘This is not going to be an easy one,’ and you know they are right,” Hill remarked.
There have been some naysayers along the way–those who scoffed at the idea of spending taxpayer money to preserve the grist mill, the main section of which was built around 1846 with multiple additions in 1930 and 1955.
Vinton’s Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning, Nathan McClung, recently detailed the progress that has been made:
- Through an initial grant, the town was able to hire engineering services to complete a hydrologic and hydraulic (H&H) study to determine that the proposed repair and stabilization work will not impact the pre-project base flood elevations.
- Support the hiring of professional services to complete our formal historic nomination process.
- Complete necessary investigative work throughout specific areas of the structure and utilize A&E services for the structure design of flood recovery and rehabilitative efforts.
The town has been able to complete the following tasks for restoration on the structures (in specified areas) and the stabilization of the adjacent streambank along Glade Creek.
- Removal of vegetation from interior and exterior completed.
- Clean interior and exterior masonry, reinstallation of loose brick and repoint joints completed.
- Remove non-historic ceiling tiles and partitions.
- Completed investigative work. The next phase of actually reinforcing and designing a means of creating a foundational system for parts of the building will utilize other grant funds and resources.
- Remove roof and wall areas retaining the concrete slab (non-historic portion of building). A temporary wall sheathing was put up to protect the building from the elements and trespass.
- Remove flooring as needed to determine stabilization strategy.
- Complete a full-scale streambank stabilization project using the placement of rip-rap to stabilize critical points adjacent to the structure. The rip rap will prevent floodwaters from scouring the bank and undercutting the mill foundations in the future.
In his report, McClung listed several significant successes related to the grant funding:
- The contractor mobilized in January and was able to complete identified tasks by August.
- The reinstallation of the loose brick and repointing process completely saved that wall from future failure and restored it to its former strength and character.
- The completion of the streambank stabilization process will fortify the streambank for many years to come and protect the historic structure from scouring and further erosion.
He also noted some significant challenges experienced in relation to this grant:
- A significant 6+ month delay after being awarded the grant related to federal review processes pushed the entire project timeline back a significant amount of time. (Once the agreement was signed with DHR and permission was given to proceed, the DHR staff was “incredibly efficient” and “timely.”)
- In one area the foundation was found to be in a compromised position that would require a stabilization measure costing substantially more than what was originally planned/budgeted for. We were fortunate to be able to find this out early in the project using ESHPF funding with professional service consultants and contractor. We can now effectively plan for the next phase.
- The close proximity of the structure to the creek required the use of cranes to complete work on the streambank and related work on the northern side of the structure. This was already a known requirement but is still a challenge to note when working close to creeks and waterways.
McClung advised that the next phase of the project includes multiple funding sources from private investment, local funds, a state loan/grant program (IRF loan through DHCD), and historic tax credit incentives.
The town has requested an extension of the completion date to July 1, 2024.