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Old factory complexes across North Carolina are finding new lives. But in downtown Davidson, developers for years have tried to redevelop an aging cotton mill - without success. That's because cancer-causing asbestos is buried on the site. Between the cost of cleanup and the risk of stirring up asbestos, nobody has been willing to take on the job.

Davidson asbestos mill project inches forward; no start date yet

030822 Linden Mill Davidson.jpg
David Boraks
The Linden Mill in Davidson was once an asbestos factory. A Charlotte developer has bought the site and won approval for a plan to cap the asbestos there as part of a future redevelopment.

Plans to redevelop a former cotton and asbestos mill in downtown Davidson are inching forward after the project hit two key milestones.

A Charlotte developer named Linden Mills LLC wants to renovate the century-old former Carolina Asbestos plant for offices, shops and possibly a restaurant or brewery. Asbestos waste buried on the site has scared off other developers for decades. But Linden Mills has gotten further than others.

First, state environmental officials last fall approved a "brownfields plan" that spells out how the site can be redeveloped. It requires an approved asbestos plan, including permanently capping the asbestos, as well as air testing during any construction. The asbestos plan and other key permits require further approvals, which could take years.

And second, the developers now own the mill and the 5-acre site, after paying just $50,000 in December, according to Mecklenburg County property records.

That's a small sum for a site that the county currently values at $1.2 million. But developer Mark Miller said last year it could cost $5 million to secure asbestos. He declined to comment on the sale price.

But construction won't begin anytime soon. Miller said financing remains hard to come by in the commercial real estate market. "We want to maintain the status quo and wait until conditions improve so we can do a great project there, as we've planned," Miller said.

The old mill is currently a warehouse, with several businesses.

Miller said he expects a future development to be one-quarter to one-third retail, with the remainder office space.

The developers take their name from the company that first occupied the building a block west of Main Street a century ago.

For more about the history of the Linden Mill/Carolina Asbestos see WFAE's "Asbestos Town" project at WFAE.org/asbestos-town.

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.