Spinning new dreams: Family brings life to two area mills
That’s what Ashleigh Black and her husband, Lawrence, see when they look at the Taylors Mill.
“When you start to learn more about the community and the people, that’s when it really comes alive for me and getting to know those faces and their stories,” Ashleigh said. “I think that’s what keeps the spirit of this place.”
The couple is one of the newer tenants of the Taylors Mill, opening The Southern Bleachery as an events space for weddings, church gatherings and more.
With 20 years of startup business experience, Lawrence sees numerous possibilities for their portion of the Taylors Mill property.
“This place, it just started sparking a whole bunch of thoughts for a whole bunch of different businesses,” Lawrence said of his original visits a few years ago. “I couldn’t figure out what those different businesses were. That’s where my wife came in.
“I was traveling down here, and we were looking at maybe purchasing the whole mill or maybe part of the mill or something. Not having come from a real estate background, it took a lot of due diligence, and the more due diligence I did, the less certain I was of being able to tackle that while we’re building a family. Three months later, we were down here with the Southern Bleachery.”
The Southern Bleachery’s name commemorates the property’s original use.
“No matter how you think people are going to want to organize their wedding, they’re going to do it different,” Lawrence said. “The best thing you can do is create a blank slate with the infrastructure and modern amenities.
“We want to make it more accessible, especially ADA accessible, because it’s an old mill, but also make it safer but without taking away the charm and the appeal, the industrial charm,” he said. “It’s a dance.”
Initially, the Blacks got mixed feedback.
“In the beginning, when we first started talking to folks about our vision, we got a mixed response,” Ashleigh said. “I think when you grow up with something your whole life that has always been run down or hasn’t been utilized and has just sat in the community, you don’t see the potential in it. As we have started this process, the response has been amazing. That part has been terrific and really reinforced that the vision is right.”
“I think one of the most exciting parts is seeing people discover or rediscover the mill,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many people come to weddings and events down there and are thrilled to see something happening.”
Lawrence is taking his time to get this project right.
“I love the clouds,” Lawrence said. “The clouds change throughout the day. I really like the end of the day.”
“The pace of progress for something this scale is a lot slower,” he said. “I enjoy being here. We really do live, work, play here.”
Indie Craft Parade
Working together, Lawrence and Ashleigh envision a large family-friendly venue for festivals, such as the Indie Craft Parade.
“We want to create a space for families,” Ashleigh said. “The hard thing about going to a festival downtown is that you have your child in a stroller in a confined environment. Is there a place for them to run? Is there a place for them to get out that you can change their diapers, have some lunch, let them run around, and then you can go back in, and it’s enjoyable?”
“There’s stuff for everyone,” Ashleigh said of the Taylors Mill area. “It’s not just, ok, let me time this in-between the feeding, I’ve got my child in the stroller, I can rush in, I can do a quick look, I can get three things and then I can get home. It’s so stressful.”
With the Indie Craft Parade at the Taylors Mill next month, Ashleigh said, “I can bring the kids. It can be relaxed. I can spend the day there. I’ll have fun. I can buy something. My husband will have fun. My kids will have fun. It’s a much different experience.”
“We’ve gone to the Indie Craft Fair three times, and each time, we’ve had one additional kid,” Lawrence said. “It got more difficult.”
“What I like best about this is I feel like we’re building something that we’re going to use,” he said.
Outdoor stages with seating, rocking chairs, hammocks, play areas, parking, a coffee shop and trails are some key features in the works.
“I think if we do this right, if our vision’s right, then people are not just going to come here, go through for 30 minutes and then disappear,” Lawrence said.
“They’re going to be here for 30 minutes,” he said. “They’re going to walk around and buy a few things, but then they might go sit in a hammock, go to the coffee shop, hang out in the courtyard, sit in a rocking chair, have some lunch and go back in.”
The request to bring the Indie Craft Parade to the Taylors Mill shifted the Blacks’ focus from the smaller infiltration plant at the front of the property to the larger building at the back of the property.
“When we started talking with them, there was a lot of overlap and shared goals and objectives, and it all came together pretty quickly,” Ashleigh said. “Our biggest challenge is, can we do it fast enough? We definitely wanted to try.”
“It definitely motivated us,” she said. “They shared our vision, so they also said we know it won’t be perfect, but we want to work with you on it, and that is very rare when you have someone looking for a finished space. To start that journey together with that shared understanding and that shared vision really made it possible for us.”
“That’s one of the blessings of where we are in our station of life,” Lawrence said. “We’re not developers per se that have to act according to schedule.”
The Blacks envision three phases for the substantial work to be done in about four years at the Taylors Mill.
“The first phase is the market warehouse,” Lawrence said, “and then the yard adjacent to it.”
Grading is being done to accommodate a large parking lot.
“That will be substantially done by the end of the month,” Lawrence said. “As far as what’s needed to host and have a successful parade, that will be done at the end of this month.”
The Blacks are also working to get the warehouse on National Register of Historic Places.
“The trail system will be ongoing,” Lawrence said. “That’s something that extends beyond just this property.”
The Blacks are also looking to have the infiltration plant (Doug Young’s former studio space) redeveloped into another wedding venue or corporate retreat location by spring.
“The last piece is the boiler room,” Lawrence said. “We are looking to do a built-to-suit. That’s probably the most expensive building to restore.”
The boiler room has the smoke stack.
“We’ve had a distillery, a cidery and a brewery reach out to us about that,” Lawrence said. “It’s very attractive to those sort of manufacturers that are experience-based.”
The Blacks are also partnering in the redevelopment of the Greer Mill into 100 or so apartments and 25,000 or so square feet of retail space in the next two years.
“The two properties are so different,” Lawrence said. “The approaches are completely different. The Greer Mill is a much more traditional, historical re-use.”
“With everything happening in Greer and the great leadership they have, I think it lends itself to be part of a work, play community in a small town,” he said. “It’s a very attractive location.”
Whereas the redevelopment of the Taylors Mill has more flexibility, the Greer Mill is following a more traditional path for redevelopment.
“A lot of places like this are the first generation to find value and meaning in the older buildings,” Lawrence said. “It also fits in with a lot of secular trends in the US, moving back towards urban areas, but then also the rediscovery of small town America. Greer is a quintessential small town.”
Lawrence and Ashleigh both have family from the Upstate area.
“You can experience Greer in a day,” Lawrence said.
The Blacks moved from Taylors to Greer this year, had their third son, started construction on part of the development at the Taylors Mill, and undertook the Greer Mill.
“There are definite moments of craziness,” Ashleigh said, “but the people we work with, the team here, and then I think all of the entrepreneurs, makers collective, makes it all the better.”
“I think I’ll be doing little things hopefully forever here,” Lawrence said of the Taylors Mill.
Lawrence and Ashleigh have three boys—a five-and-a-half-year-old, an almost two-year-old and a four-month-old.
“We are a house full of boys,” Ashleigh said.
In addition to the two mills and three boys, Lawrence and Ashleigh are maintaining certain aspects of their prior employment with conference calls and board meetings.
“It’s more conference calls, visioning, strategy,” Lawrence said. “It’s all done from here. It’s all done while I’m digging in the dirt.”
“I still sit on some boards for organizations related to international development, child health and nutrition, agricultural, things from a previous life,” Ashleigh said.