The Danville Industrial Development Authority has approved an agreement for possible purchase of the iconic White Mill Building on Memorial Drive and a limited-service, boutique-style hotel could be coming to downtown Danville.
During its meeting Tuesday morning, the IDA approved an agreement among 424 Memorial Drive LLC, IDA Danville Manager LLC — both owned by the IDA — and The Alexander Company for an option to buy the old White Mill Building for $3 million.
The IDA voted 5-0 to approve the agreement. Members Max Glass and Richard Turner were absent.
The company will have nine months to conduct due diligence and evaluate the property to determine whether to purchase it and what it could be used for, said Corrie Teague Bobe, assistant economic development director for Danville.
Danville officials had been marketing the property ever since the IDA purchased it in 2017 from White Mill Development LLC, a subsidiary of Spartanburg, South Carolina-based Gibbs International.
The historic building was once part of the sprawling Dan River Inc. textile operation.
“We’re pleased with the interest we’ve had,” IDA Board Chairman Neal Morris said during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “This is a good company. They’ve done all their projects similar to this. We’re hoping it will go through.”
The IDA purchased the property for $3 million, the same price The Alexander Company would pay if it agrees to buy it.
Dave Vos, development project manager with The Alexander Company in Madison, Wisconsin, said he was impressed with Danville’s economic development team, including Bobe and Economic Development Director Telly Tucker.
Vos said Vice Mayor Lee Vogler had initially contacted him about the White Mill property.
Company officials first had concerns about Danville’s declining population and were worried about a project at the White Mill negatively affecting existing housing stock and commercial uses, Vos said.
“But the economic development folks followed up with us,” Vos said during a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “They showed all the energy and momentum that is returning to Danville. You’ve attracted quite a few businesses in recent years.”
The Alexander Company, officially established in 1981, has redeveloped at least 100 historic buildings and has performed new construction in several states. Their work includes the $54 million Printworks Mill project under way in Greensboro, North Carolina, which would include apartment units and retail space.
As for the White Mill property, Vos said the company has already started due diligence on it.
“Our first goal is to explore potential uses for the building,” he said. “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned. We want to make sure the uses we put into the building are what the community wants for that building.”
Vos said a potential user will visit the site next week.
The agreement includes options for the IDA to allow for two extensions up to 180 days each.
City Manager Ken Larking said of the White Mill purchase option: “It’s a necessary first step in the process of getting it developed.”
In another matter, the IDA approved by a 5-0 vote a $3 million loan for 123 South Union LLC, owned by Ed Walker, for a $6.2 million hotel project in the Knights of Pythias Building and the old Danville Register & Bee Building at 117-119 S. Union St. and 123 S. Union St. downtown.
The project would include a hotel, called “The Honey Bee,” with 42 limited-service suites. The name would be a reference to when it housed what is now the Danville Register & Bee, Bobe said.
Walker, a Roanoke developer, bought the two properties in 2018 with plans to begin development in the first quarter of this year.
“The rooms at the Honey Bee will be beautiful, well-appointed, affordable, and will celebrate the best parts of Danville,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “In my frequent visits to the community, it became obvious that the River District — as well as other appealing historic districts — needed hospitality options.”
“This project not only pays homage to the former use of the property, but will also highlight the region through its room décor,” Bobe said.
Larking and Mayor Alonzo Jones said local residents and businesses — as well as visitors — have requested a hospitality option in the River District, preferably a boutique-hotel concept.
“Travelers increasingly desire to patronize lodging establishments that provide unique or memorable accommodations,” Jones said in a prepared statement. “The Honey Bee will offer visitors to our region a chance to experience all of the new River District amenities within walking distance.”
Walker has been behind historic redevelopment projects throughout Virginia, in areas including Roanoke, Salem and Buena Vista.
Morris said the hotel project would be beneficial to downtown.
“We think that would enhance the downtown and would blend in with what’s been there,” Morris said. “It would be a good move. The gentleman [Walker] is good at what he does.”
The $3 million from the Special Projects Loan Fund will give Walker a start on the project, he added. The loan will be paid pack to the IDA at 5-percent interest over two years.
In August, Danville’s economic development office created the Special Projects Loan Fund, a financing tool for high-impact historic redevelopment projects in the River District. It was established to provide short-term financing through the IDA to spur the development of projects.