New commercial tenant taking 16,000 square feet in Loray Mill
Though steeped in history as a flagship of the bygone textile industry, the Loray Mill in Gastonia hasn’t hosted any manufacturing operations in a quarter century.
But that will change soon when the redeveloped building welcomes a new commercial tenant into a sizeable portion of space on its east end. Cross Co. announced Monday that it will bring up to 50 employees while moving its Automation Group into the mill, where it will focus on providing technologies to improve machine and manufacturing process performance.
The firm has signed a 15-year lease for a total of 16,000 square feet on the mill’s first and second floors, on the side facing Dalton Street. The Automation Group is made up of three business units, including electro-mechanical motion, pneumatic motion and robotics. Each team has engineers, customer service representatives and administrative workers that will move to the new facility.
“This is the type of thing we’ve wanted here,” said Joe Lenihan, the majority owner of the Loray Mill. “It’s not just for us. It’s about bringing jobs to Gastonia.”
Greensboro-based Cross Company was founded in 1954 and is 100 percent employee-owned. It previously had a local presence in The Oaks business park in north Belmont. But when it outgrew that space, it turned to Colliers International to help find a new home.
Expanding in Gaston
Don Moss and Chris Neal of Colliers International eventually made contact with Bob Clay of Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA in Belmont, who represents the mill and has been actively marketing its commercial space. What resulted was a perfect fit, said Cross Company Director of Operations Dan Hines.
“The Loray Mill is an excellent venue to grow and nurture our Automation Group,” Hines said via a press release. “It was a priority to remain in Gaston County and quite simply, the Loray Mill was the best choice for our unique needs.”
Spanning 600,000 square feet, the 116-year-old Loray Mill was known as the Firestone Mill when it shut down as a textile center for good in 1993. A long, arduous effort to transform the space paid off when Loray Redevelopment LLC carried out a massive redevelopment project there from 2013-2015, creating 189 loft apartments that have maintained a 94 percent or better occupancy rate for the last two years. Lenihan and his team plan to begin construction on another 105 apartments on the west side of the building later this year.
Along with the residential overhaul five years ago, a total of 85,000 square feet of commercial retail space was created on the bottom two floors of the mill. A gym and a brewpub have been among the tenants to move in there, but efforts to fill the remaining space have proceeded slowly.
Cross Company’s announcement represents a significant achievement in filling another huge 16,000-square-foot chunk of the commercial block. In addition to its Automation Group, the firm’s five other divisions include Mobile Hydraulics, Instrumentation, Process Control Integration, Hose & Fittings, and Precision Measurement & Calibration. Beyond its headquarters in Greensboro, the company has major divisional offices in Whitsett, Asheville, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
As part of the mill’s redevelopment, Gastonia and Gaston County each committed to conceptually lease 20,000 square feet of the commercial space in the mill for 10 years, through independently structured deals. Cross Company will occupy a unique wing where the Gastonia Police Department at one time considered opening a new headquarters for its Western District, before abandoning that plan.
“They’re taking about 5,000 square feet downstairs in the first floor on the east end of the building,” said Lenihan. “And on the second floor toward Dalton Street, there’s a whole open space we call the ‘U’ where they’re taking the entire second floor, including everything behind our management office and pretty much all around to the history center.”
Lenihan said the continued progress in gradually finding new commercial tenants is proving the doubters wrong.
“What I’m proud of is that when we went out and tried to borrow money against this property, HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and the bank wouldn’t give us any money for redeveloping the commercial space,” he said. “They said no one would ever lease that space.”
Cross Company’s relocation and expansion into the mill is expected to move fairly quickly over the coming weeks.
(Gaston Gazette, 5/20/19)