Canal Authority to aquire Sibley Mill
One of Augusta's most significant historic properties has a new owner.
Sibley Mill, opened in 1882 and closed in 2006, is under contract to the Augusta Canal Authority for $800,000, with closing expected Aug. 31.
The property includes the 518,000-square-foot textile mill, its hydropower plant, outbuildings and 20 acres stretching from the banks of the Augusta Canal to the Savannah River.
Longterm goals for the site will include preservation and redevelopment into a blend of new uses-similar to the renovated Enterprise Mill nearby.
Although the authority plans to acquire the vacant site, it does not intend to become a long-term owner, said Dayton Sherrouse, the authority's executive director.
"We want to protect this important historic resource," Sherrouse said. "When the economy improves, we will consider offers from interested developers."
In the meantime, the authority will work to protect the structure from "demolition by neglect," a term that refers to the fate of historic properties lost through deterioration or collapse.
The authority will also assume ownership of the mill's hydropower turbines, which are capable of generating $1,000 to $1,200 in revenues daily from the sale of electricity. A request will be made to transfer the hydropower license from the current owner-Avondale Mills-to the Canal Authority.
Avondale closed the mill in 2006 and placed the property on the market for $2.5 million. From 2007 to early 2009, the site was under contract to an investor group led by developer Clay Boardman, but those negotiations failed and the site was again offered for sale.
The acquisition will allow the authority to complete pre-development activities to make the site more marketable to a developer, Sherrouse said, noting that the canal was built in 1845 to promote economic development.
Preservation of its historic buildings in the canal National Heritage Area, he added, is consistent with that goal.
The purchase marks the second time the Canal Authority has stepped up as a catalyst for preservation on the canal.
In 2001, it purchased the Sibley's next-door neighbor, King Mill, for $250,000. The authority then leased the building to a new operator, Ohio-based Standard Textile, which has kept it open as an active manufacturer and employer.
The Sibley, by comparison, is vacant and will require significant environmental cleanup work before it could be redeveloped.
Issues that have been raised in the past include lead-based paint, asbestos and the need for further evaluation of what lies beneath the ground. Other issues include compliance with laws that require a higher standard of environmental cleanup for industrial areas that are being converted to newer uses, such as housing.
Under the terms of the contract, the authority has a 120-day inspection period to identity any unknown structural or environmental problems.
Sherrouse said the authority will conduct its own environmental inspection of the property to complement previous assessments by Avondale.
"Our goal is to have the site approved under the Brownfield Program pursuant to Georgia's Hazardous Site Reuse and Redevelopment Act," he said.
Such programs offer federal assistance to help guarantee that questionable areas are suitable for redevelopment.
The property behind Sibley, reaching to the Savannah River, is also part of the purchase.
Acquisition will allow the authority to complete a long-delayed recreational trail project along the Savannah River levee that had been postponed due to right-of-way issues.
Work to install pedestrian bridges across the tailraces (the outflows to the Savannah River) from Sibley and King Mills will begin after final closing.
The Sibley was a major textile power for more than a century and was so large that its image often appeared on postcards mailed out by tourists.
It is also an architectural wonder and a historic treasure, based on its affiliation with the Confederate Powderworks that occupied the same site during the Civil War.
A few feet from the mill's front door is the brick obelisk that once served as the chimney for the Powderworks, which included a two-mile-long cluster of buildings along the canal. Faded marble tablets tell the story of the industrial complex closed in April 1865 after producing 2.75 million pounds of gunpowder that fueled most major battles of the Civil War.
The compound was razed a few years after the war's end, and the Sibley rose in its place, utilizing a half-million bricks salvaged from the Powderworks ruins.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places by virtue of its inclusion in the Augusta Canal National Historic Landmark District.
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