The Erwin Business Complex, a historic piece of property over 100 years old has been sold to new owners.
Located at 200 North 13th St. in Erwin, the property was the home of the Erwin Cotton Mill that was completed in 1904. The mill became the defining feature for the nearby town formerly named Duke, but today is known as the Town of Erwin after a name change in 1926.
The mill’s impact on the community continued until its closing in 2000, leaving behind a legacy that still defines Erwin to this day. According to the Town, Erwin is still referred to as the “Denim Capitol of the World” for the amount of raw denim produced for over half a century.
Now the property is being passed on to new owners, but long-time employee Norman Avery is there to oversee it be sold for the fourth time since he became employed by the property in 1962.
“Well, I started off employed by Erwin Mills, and I moved up in management over the years to plant engineer,” said Avery. “It went from Erwin Mills to Burlington Industries to Swift Textiles and now, the LLC company that has it now. So, I’ve been here a total of 60 years, going on 61 years.”
Avery, who now serves as a senior management director for the Erwin Business Complex on the property said he’s seen the area develop over time, including how it has affected the employment within the community.
“When the Mill was running peak under Burlington and Swift, we were employing 2,400 employees and we were producing on average per week, 7 million yards of denim so it’s come a long way. Since it was shut down, we’ve started renting out areas,” said Avery. “Right now, we have about 44 tenants in the plant, and we can use 44 more, it’s a big operation.”
Commercial real estate firm Dowell Commercial Realty finalized the sale on Feb. 1 for a final price of $9.5 million with reported plans for the new owners to improve and reposition the property. The management of historic sales is listed as a "niche specialty" for Dowell Commercial Realty, which has helped broker the sale of 15 historic properties around North Carolina.
“Each Commercial real estate specialty has its own niche real estate brokers, developers, lenders, contractors, etc. Many groups will “stay in their lane” and stick to the product type they are familiar with. Historic rehabilitation is the same,” said CEO and Principal Broker Sean Dowell. “Historic properties each have challenges related to limitations on improvements to maintain the historic fabric, extensive paperwork with the state and federal governments, environmental cleanup typically, specialty construction code (rehab code verse new construction), etc. Historic deals are time consuming affairs. They are not for the unprepared or faint of heart. As a side note, I don’t know if Erwin mill will be a historic rehab, but we’ve positioned it so it could be.”
The property measures approximately 1,075,000 SF across 56 acres. It was listed for sale for a number of years before being listed by DCR in 2016. After finding some environmental concerns on the property including a nonperforming test well among other things, owners embarked on a five-year effort working the Environmental Protection Agency's Brownfields Programs to fix environmental concerns with a cost of $4 million.
Dowell Commercial Realty partnered with business consultant Jeff Smith, president of CIRA Solutions, LLC to help coordinate the cleanup of the property on behalf of the sellers. Environmental sampling, indoor air vapor testing and soil testing are some of the measures taken to ensure property would be safe for new development.
“We worked with the state on that, and we identified those areas of concern, and then we spent the last essentially three years dealing with those issues,” shared Smith. “So, we've taken a property that was an industrial site for well over 100 years and identified environmental issues that were created back when there were no environmental regulations whatsoever. We've identified the environmental concerns, and then we worked with the state, and we actually remediated those issues and those concerns so the property can be put back into use safely.”
Smith said that this was the first time he had taken on a project of this magnitude, but said he is excited to see the property get back to being used productively. After his time on the property, 81-year-old Avery and his business partner Frank Alumon decided it was time to sell. While the new owner company is still a mystery, county records confirmed the land is under the new ownership of 200 NORTH 13, LLC based out of Brooklyn, New York.
“Super nice people, very nice people, they're good to work with, of course they’re just getting their feet on the ground with the plant, and they’ve got a lot they’re having to cover and do,” said Avery.
Avery said it has been easy working with the new owners, and he will be staying on to train his replacement before he decides to step back for good. He also said early plans for possible developments and upgrades are in discussion.
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