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NODA Mills Bidding Now Tops $1 Million

Two long-vacant mill buildings in Charlotte's NODA neighborhood are attracting the attention of developers. Decades ago the Johnston and Mecklenburg mills used to be the center of the community now known as NODA. But for five years the buildings have been boarded up. Hollis Nixon, the head of the local neighborhood association, has tried hard to change that. "We want life back in that piece of property, people who live there, maybe some people who work there, maybe a small component of retail," says Nixon. "I mean it needs a vein, and a heart beat and that's what it doesn't have right now." But what the property does have now is the interest of developers. The city put the mills up for auction in January. Four developers bid on them and the top offer now stands at $1.1 million. "I never thought it would get that high personally and my concern is during this bidding process, while people are out-bidding each other, the numbers might not work and then what happens?" asks Nixon. Her concern is understandable. She's seen other deals fall through. For a long time, the mills functioned as housing for poor families. But the project's developer went bankrupt. The city had loaned the company a few million dollars. It lost that money and then decided to buy back the property from the bank with hopes of later selling it and recovering some of the money. Altogether, the city spent nearly $7 million on the property. But in 2006, the city found major structural problems with the mills and moved out the hundred or so families living there. The next year the city asked for proposals for developing the site. Tuscan Development ended up buying it for $475,000. But the deal fell through when the economy tanked. In January the city finally put it up for auction. Right now it will take $1.2 million to upset local developer Merrifield Patrick Vermillion's offer. "We did some quick back-of-napkin calculations and, quite honestly, I don't think we're really that surprised with the size and the number of bids were getting right now," says the city's Peter Zeiler, who's working on the project. "I think it kind of fits within the loose parameters of what a developer could offer for this property." The city is requiring developers make 20 percent of the units affordable housing. The two highest bidders are Merrifield Patrick Vermillion and the national affordable housing developer The Community Builders. Merrifield Patrick Vermillion owns an adjacent property. The Community Builders plan to use a federal grant to help purchase the mills, which could require setting aside more than 20 percent of the property for affordable housing. The city will continue to take bids until at least March 24th.