River Mill Resort

Chicago partners buy, to renovate
former Meese building on riverfront

‘River Mill Resort’ to be residential,
retail with a restaurant

By Don Ward

(July 2007) – Combined with the ongoing development of Madison’s Bicentennial Park, both ends of the city’s riverfront will soon become a gathering place for residents and visitors alike for all sorts of events or just to walk, shop and eat following the June 29 sale of the former Meese building.

River Mill Resort Owners

Photo by Don Ward

From left, partners Bob Przewlocki
and David Landau, and project
manager Tony Novelli pose at the
riverfront, where their new
will soon unfold.

The nearly 90,000-square-foot building, which once housed an industrial cotton mill, is considered the largest single structure in the downtown and comprises nearly six acres right on the riverfront. Two Chicago-area historic preservationists purchased the building from owner Jerry Fuhs of French Lick, Ind., and plan to turn the massive structure into a mixed-use development.
The plan, to be conducted in two phases, will feature retail and restaurant space on the first floor and condominiums upstairs. Their plans also include green space outside and educational classrooms inside for promoting historic preservation, said Bob Przewlocki, who has 35 years experience in historic preservation projects.
“We are very excited about this project, and we plan to work closely with the city and the community to develop something everyone can be proud of,” he said. “We also want to design our project in line with the other develops going on along the riverfront. It will be a true community effort.”
Madison Mayor Al Huntington was among the group of local officials who met with the potential investors in April. He had been championing the idea of a mini-conference center for downtown in hopes that the eventual buyer of the property would be preservation-minded.
“We are very happy to have a developer of this caliber has taken over such an important project for the downtown and our riverfront,” Huntington said.
Madison-based Realtor David Jenkins represented the buyers and Scott Lynch represented the seller, Fuhs. Jenkins said the deal took five hours to complete.
“I think this will be great for Madison, and I’m very exited for my company because they are planning to do some great things and I hope to be a part of it,” Jenkins said.
Przewlocki, 56, of St. Charles, Ill., and partner David Landau, 42, of Michigan City, Ind., met only 11/2 years ago when Landau was searching the Internet for a company to take on large preservation-renovation projects. He found Przewlocki, and together the two visited Madison city officials and local historic preservation officials in April and closed on the property in late June.

Meese building

Photo by Don Ward

The former industrial site will be
preserved and converted into condos.

They plan to immediately begin the task of cleaning up the site and begin the permit process for the project. They want to preserve the architecture of the original building and develop gardens and “lots of green space” around it for residents and visitors who will come there, Przewlocki said. They also plan to draw on the expertise of local Historic Madison Inc. staff and those from the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, he said.
His company, Preservation Trades Inc., already has conducted a historic structural survey of the building, which revealed that the building is structurally sound.
“It was a masonry building that was built to sustain heavy loads to accommodate the people and equipment,” Przewlocki said. “In fact, it was gauged to withstand 150 pounds per square foot. Most public assembly buildings are gauged at 100 pounds per square foot.”
He said some areas sustained water damage before the roof was repaired, “but it has original, beautiful tongue-and-groove hardwood floors that we will preserve.”
He said the foundation is in excellent shape and consists of hand-carved limestone sitting on a large bed of bedrock. There are two-foot-thick brick walls at the base. “You can’t get much sounder than that.”
The two men have hired Landau’s father, an architect, to design the plans for the project, which will be called “River Mill Resort.”
It will include timber-framed, industrial loft-type condos in various sizes, from 1,200 to possibly 2,500 square feet. “We can make them any size, depending on what interest we receive,” Przewlocki said. “We want to make it a destination on the river for the community to enjoy, because after we are gone, it will remain there for a long time.”
Przewlocki grew up in Chicago and studied environmental sciences at the University of Illinois and Boston College. He said he became interested in historic preservation while living in Boston. His company, based in Wayne, Ill., has completed many projects throughout the Midwest. The company’s website describes itself as “a full service design-build company specializing in traditional craftsmanship with a sensitivity for the natural and built environments. Our goal is to implement the latest methodologies in evaluating, planning, improving and rebuilding historic structures as established by The Secretary of the Interior.”

Bob Przewlocki

"We want to
make it a destination on
the river for
the community
to enjoy."

– Bob Przewlocki

The Meese building is perhaps the largest single structure along the riverfront and sits only a few blocks from the Ohio River bridge. According to documents on file at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library, it was originally built to house the Eagle Cotton Mills Co., organized in November 1883 after consolidating with Banner Mills of Pittsburgh. Madison-based Rankin & White were the contractors.
The $215,000 building housed 15,000 spindles, 275 looms, 150 cards and other cotton appliances to manufacture sheetings, seamless bags, twines, carpet and other warps, hosiery yarn and batting, etc.œ A three-story picker house was constructed in the adjacent building. An engine room with two Corliss engines and a boiler room with six boilers were each housed in separate adjacent buildings. The company employed 500 workers.
The factory was illuminated by 312 incandescent points and heated by steam. The fire safety system included sufficient hoses and automatic sprinkler system. Railroad tracks at one time ran through the property for shipping out finished products.
In later years, the building housed the Meese Manufacturing Co., the name that is still painted on the outer walls.
Fuhs, who owns and has renovated historic properties in French Lick, Ind., bought the Meese building in April 2001 from Buddy Waller soon after buying and renovating the Hillside Inn at a November 1999 bankruptcy auction. He sold the 30-room hotel in December 2003.
Waller had used the former Meese site for storing equipment for his business, Waller’s Meter Inc. Fuhs originally intended to renovate the building with a plan similar to the one now in motion, But with the announcement of the new casino coming to French Lick, he put his Madison plans on hold to concentrate on other projects closer to home. He listed the property for sale at $650,000.

David Landau

David Landau

In June, Fuhs and his wife, Carolyn, launched a new project – a $23 million indoor waterpark and hotel complex – now being constructed in downtown French Lick directly across from the recently opened French Lick Casino. When finished in fall 2008, Valley of the Springs Resort will feature a 156-room hotel and a 40,000-square-foot indoor waterpark called Big Splash Island.
The Fuhs currently own and operate several other Indiana hospitality properties, including Beechwood Inn and Wilstem Guest Ranch in French Lick; Santa’s Lodge in Santa Claus; Gasthof Amish Village in Montgomery and Baymont Inn & Suites in Dale. Fuhs also is a partner in a project to renovate the Old Jasper Cabinet Co., located in downtown Jasper, into a hotel-convention center type facility that stands to benefit from a larger redevelopment effort going on in the area.
The couple resides in French Lick, and Jerry Fuhs owns a multi-state tax filing business in Jasper.

• To learn more about the River Mill Resort project, visit: www.rivermillresort.com.

Back to July 2007 Articles.



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