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Reimagined Mooresville Mill Again Becomes Economic Engine

MOORESVILLE – The multicolored flecks that survive on the brick walls and wooden beams serve as timestamps for a structure that once was the lifeblood of a town and provider for most of its residents.

Each color is a layer of history, where one generation of memories was painted over by another, then another, then another, until Mooresville’s sprawling mill complex, then owned by Burlington Industries, finally went dark at the end of the 20th century as globalization sucked the breath from the South’s once-dominant textile industry. It’s by design that remnants from each coat remain after the bricks and beams were stripped and cleaned, says Michal Bay, a native of Turkey who bought the 40-plus-acre site and 1.1 million square feet of deteriorating buildings more than a decade ago.

“Even if it’s costing you money, leave it as original as you can,” Bay says in explaining his renovation philosophy. “Because I believe this building is not owned by me. I believe it’s American heritage. Really. You cannot own a building. Tomorrow I will die. The building will stay.” Bay says he’s counted seven or eight colors on the historic structure’s walls. And truth is, he admits, some of the paint is just impossible to remove completely, like the building’s history that is marked with each layer. “Just put a coat of seal on it, and that’s enough,” he insists. “It’s beautiful.”

Evolving vision
More than a century after production began at the South Main Street site, Bay’s Merino Mill complex is again an economic engine. More than two-dozen commercial tenants – some of them global corporations – fill rehabbed sections of the mill. And there’s more to come. Michal Bay, who came to the U.S. from Turkey when he was 16, bought Mooresville’s historic mill property in 2010.

Space is being readied for Defined Coffee – an espresso bar and coffee roastery – and two yet-to-be named breweries, says Jean Andzulis, director of special projects at the mill. They will join Alino Pizzeria, Barcelona Burger & Beer Garden and Main St. Antiques as popular attractions at the mill.

“This is a destination,” says Andzulis, who moved to Davidson after retiring as director of New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts in 2019. “You can spend all day here. We have coffee, we have shopping, we have food.”

That was not Bay’s vision in 2010 when he bought the mill, which he says was likely days away from being razed. His goal was to create the area’s biggest furniture market, and he set out in that direction initially. As he renovated the buildings section by section, he filled them with more inventory. But a bigger selection didn’t translate into increased sales, Bay says.

“As you go, you learn from your mistakes,” he admits.

The mill’s true transformation began with the opening of Alino, which was an instant success. Within two months, Bay says, he had leased large sections of once-vacant space near the pizzeria. Much of the mill’s business growth since has been through word of mouth from existing tenants, he adds.

‘A little crazy’
Former mill employees have stopped in regularly over the years to see what was happening at the place that played an important role in their lives, but Bay says those visits have become less common as years go by. Andzulis recalls conversations with people who remember when Bay decided to buy what was then considered an eyesore. “They thought he might be a little crazy to take this project on because it was like a horror show in here – just filled with dirt and mud and water,” she says. Bay doesn’t dispute that description of the property’s initial condition, or the daunting task he faced in making it marketable. “It was just me with one mop,” he recalls of the early days. Today, the site teems with construction workers erecting walls to subdivide areas for new office or retail space. Bay says he expects to have leased all of the former mill property by next year.

“I think it’s a beautiful feeling,” he replies when asked how he will feel when the transformation is complete. “But it’s not really about the money. It’s like you achieved something; you built something and it happened even better than you dreamed of, because as you go, your dream has changed every month, every day, every week.”

And as more businesses fill the refurbished areas, new chapters are written. “Because every tenant has a beautiful story,” Bay says. Just like those stubborn splotches of paint, now exposed to history in the remaking.

Merino Mill Tenants:
In addition to Alino Pizzeria, Barcelona Burger & Beer Garden and Main St. Antiques, here are the mill’s other existing tenants:

Carolina Finance – financial services
Cavotec – technology for ships, aircraft and mobile equipment
Fiskars – tools
Gator – sanders and sandpaper
Greenworks – environmentally friendly yard equipment
Iredell County Economic Development Corporation – nonprofit
Metabo – power tools
Med-Sell – medical equipment
Mohawk Industries – flooring
Nest & Bower – furniture, home accessories, gifts and jewelry
Native Ceuticals – CBD oil products
Oldcastle APG – masonry and hardscape products
OLPR – handmade leather goods
Ove – bath, lighting and outdoor furniture
Pet Screening – helps property owners manage renters’ pets
Power Home Solar – solar power
Quad Marketing – business marketing
Susie Films – media production
Ringo Fire – creative agency
Soul Wellness – holistic wellness center
Westmoreland Films – production company
Yotrio – outdoor furniture

“Reimagined Mooresville Mill Again Becomes Economic Engine | Lake Norman Publications.”, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.