Southern Railway trains once carried boxcars of cotton for the manufacture of denim, flannel and corduroy to the cluster of Cone Mills factories in northeast Greensboro. The tracks still cross Yanceyville Street, as they have for decades, and run alongside a shuttered red-brick mill that developers envision as a potential boutique hotel.
Follow the tracks across a trestle spanning North Buffalo Creek, and more than 30 years of dreaming gives way to reality — a construction site with piles of gravel and sand, and the rumble of trucks and a yellow excavator next to the tall, sandy brick smokestack of Revolution Mill.
“It is good to see a structure like that get used again,’’ says Joe Hill, whose parents made denim for Cone Mills. The retired facilities director for Guilford County Schools grew up in the mill village that he says could benefit economically from a $100 million redevelopment of the 117-year-old mill.
Self-Help, a Durham-based credit union and lender, bought the 512,000-square-foot factory out of foreclosure in 2012. Most of the office space it inherited was leased, so it renovated more.
Whether people want to live in the heart of Greensboro’s mill district will be a test not only for Self-Help but also for boosters of Greensboro’s center city, which is 2 miles south. The additional housing is needed, according to Zach Matheny, president and CEO of Downtown Greensboro Inc. The central business district’s population of about 2,300 people is “a very low number for a city of Greensboro’s size,’’ he says. “I’d like to see it double. The more residents we have downtown, the more vibrant our businesses will be.’’