Nonprofit has a new vision for Gastonia mill village

In the shadow of the six-story Loray Mill, where Bubbles Styers has lived for nearly 60 years, she feels a new vitality stirring.

In the spring, tenants began moving into the recently renovated mill building’s loft-apartments, and some wave at Styers as they come and go. She has high hopes for Preservation North Carolina’s plan to rejuvenate the 30-block Loray neighborhood made up of about 500 small mill houses built between 1900 and the 1930s.

The Raleigh-based nonprofit has purchased nine properties, which will be modernized and sold.

Styers, 59, is among the 25 percent of Loray village residents who own their homes; 75 percent of the properties are rentals, and many aren’t well-maintained.

Preservation North Carolina hopes to reverse those figures by demonstrating how attractive the remodeled houses with small yards can be to millennials and empty nesters. The nonprofit’s other projects with restored mill houses have been successful in such places as Edenton and near Burlington.

I’d love to see this as a stable, integrated neighborhood with a lot of ownership and lots of regard for small homes. We’re hoping to turn some peoples’ heads to the value of small homes.

Preservation North Carolina President Myrick Howard

Styers, who has lived all her life in the same six-room house on Dalton Street, remembers the Loray neighborhood when mill employees owned most the homes.

“It was fabulous,” she said. “Everybody looked out for each other. They’d do anything in the world for you.”

She’s optimistic about Preservation North Carolina’s effort to change the dynamics of a neighborhood that fell into decline.

“I’m glad they’re doing it,” Styers said. “I’m sure the neighborhood will come back someday.”

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(The Charlotte Observer, 1/2/16)