reveals ambitious plan
to transform riverfront
would see hotel, condos,
restaurant complex at former industrial site
MADISON, Ind. (September 2008) Driving across
the Ohio River Bridge into Madison, Ind., you cant help but notice
the large, brick building hovering over the riverfront below. The former
Eagle Cotton Mill, also known as the Meese building, towers above small
homes and businesses with its hollow, symmetrical windows and eerie,
flat facade that still houses memories of a bygone industrial era.
Indiana Edition Cover
The 90,000-square-foot, four-story structure sits on six
acres of prime riverfront land, but for the past three decades this
shell of a former industrial powerhouse has slowly dilapidated
its many windows broken, its doors splintered and its ceilings collapsed.
When Chicago-based restorationist Bob Przewlocki looks at the circa
1884 site, he envisions a hotel, condominiums, restaurants and retails
shops. He sees people strolling public gardens, attending theater shows
and sipping flavored coffees and microbrew beers on the veranda. He
sees families bicycling into a lush patio to have dinner or to simply
sit and watch the barges and houseboats troll by. He sees all of this
taking place at what he is calling the signature restoration project
of his career - River Mill Resort.
To some, Przewlocki may sound like a dreamer. But to those who have
seen the transformation of similar industrial waste sites into thriving
downtown residential and retail mixed-use developments, Przewlocki is
exactly what Madison needed.
Our main objective is to preserve the history and character of
the building. This project will be all green, with self-sufficient low
energy usage and compatible with the environment, said Przewlocki,
57, who has 30 years of experience in restoration.
Family: Wife, Nancy, a retired museum curator. Resides: Wayne,
Education: Attended the University of Illinois-Champaign
and Boston College. Did not graduate.
Businesses: Owns and operates two northern Illinois restoration
companies, Preservation Trades Inc., which restores barns, log homes
and historic buildings, and Old Growth Trading Co. Inc. Recently
formed two new Indiana corporations, River Mill Resort Inc. and
Old Growth Trading Co.-Madison Limited, for the Madison project.
River Mill Resort
Location: 108 St. Michaels St., Madison, IN.
Contact: (812) 801-4603
Features planned: Luxirious Condo Hotel, River Mill Bread
Co., three bars and nightclubs, 200-seat theater, 12,000-square-foot
retail space, 6,000-square-foot ballroom, conference facilities,
production studio, Allied Working Arts, artisan studios, marina
and outdoor activities.
Amenities planned: Hand-crafted furniture, infinity exercise
pools, 6,000-square-foot atrium pool, gym and spa, gardens, river
Timetable for completion: Three years
This is going to be a pivotal development within
the downtown area, and we hope it will help spur further activity. But
our main focus is preservation and paying tribute to the remarkable
craftsmen who built this place. We are in a National Historic Landmarks
District, and theres a finite number of buildings in it. So we
have to preserve all we can.
Przewlocki is first and foremost a preservatonist. But faced with this
colossal, $20 million project, he has turned developer as well. He bought
the building in July 2007 for $475,000 from previous owner Jerry Fuhs
of French Lick, Ind. Fuhs had purchased the property for $750,000 three
years earlier with plans to conduct a similar renovation. But Fuhs instead
turned his attention to French Lick when plans were announced to build
a casino there. The structure was on the market for more than a year.
On July 30, Przewlocki appeared before Madisons Historic Board
of Review, at board member Rich Murrays request, and described
for a packed room at the City Council Chamber his dream for transforming
the Madison riverfront into a lively, thriving playground. In addition
to a luxirious condo hotel and restaurant, the plan includes conference
rooms a ballroom and eventually a marina. It features a theater, microbrewery
and retail shops. He hopes to complete the entire project in three years.
When they started taking all the windows out of the building,
some people were upset, so I thought it would be a good idea to have
Bob come and present his plans to us, said Murray. You cant
doubt his enthusiasm. I share everyones hopes that they are able
to follow through on their plans.
rendering shows what the back side
(facing north) of the future River Mill Resort
could look like once the building has been
rehabbed. The courtyard would connect the
theater and microbrewry restaurant to the
rest of the complex. Below is a rendering
of the restaurant planned for an
existing house at the site
Murray said he was relieved to hear that Przewlocki was
restoring the windows and that the work was being done on site. This
is going to be a monumental project, and I dont know if it is
in their (financial) means to handle it on their own. I hope they are
taking full advantage of all the tax credits and programs available
to help them finance it.
Przewlocki said he is familiar with federal and state tax incentive
programs. Greg Sekula, who directs the southern Indiana office of the
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, said he has talked with Przewlocki
and has offered to assist him in obtaining tax credits on the project.
Historic Landmarks Foundation, headquartered in Indianapolis, assists
building owners in saving and restoring historic places through education,
advice and advocacy.
Sekula, who has toured the building, said, Im delighted
to have a developer who is interested in restoring what is probably
the largest building in the National Historic Landmarks District. I
wish him all the success in the world, and I know folks in Madison are
anxious to see something happen with that building.
Corey Murphy, executive director of Economic Development Partners of
Jefferson County, said, The project fits with our communitys
existing assets; it complements nicely, and Im excited about the
project. Anytime you can re-use a historic building like that and generate
investment, its a good thing.
Because of the size of the project and Przewlockis newcomer status
in town, Murphy said he is taking a wait and see approach.
But he added, We will certainly be supportive and open minded.
by Don Ward
shows what the back
side of the building
looks like today.
Below is where a
is to be built.
Myrick Howard, executive director of Preservation North
Carolina, based in Raleigh, briefly visited the site and met Przewlocki
during his July trip to Madison, where he presented a keynote address
for Historic Madison Inc. Howard said such projects serve to envigorate
small towns, especially those based on tourism.
These projects are very complicated because they involve a large
financial commitment and are high risk, Howard said during an
August telephone interview. If it works it would have an excellent
impact for Madison.
He said his organizations studies show that tearing down and constructing
new buildings generally cost three times more, take three times as long
and are three times harder to do than restoring existing ones. It
makes sense because the basic shell is already there, so you have something
to build on. Weve seen that the cost savings can run as high as
20 to 30 percent.
Howard recommended that developers create such projects with the residents
welfare in mind. If the local residents love it, then the tourists
will love it, so do it for the residents first.
Sekula said if Przewlocki follows the standard federal guidelines, the
developer could qualify to receive up to 20 percent in tax federal savings
on his investment, plus another 20 percent from the state. He
has not approached us yet about tax credits, but we are willing and
ready to provide any assistance, Sekula said.
Przewlocki recently completed a large private home renovation project
for a Fortune 500 CEO north of Chicago and has now turned his attention
to Madison. In addition to restoring windows, he is working quickly
to renovate a metal storage barn on the site and turn it into a wood
recycling shop and wood furniture showroom to support his renovation
of the Meese building. He has formed Old Growth Trading Co.-Madison
Limited, whose goal is to locate, buy and restore wooden beams and structures
from old barns and vintage commercial buildings in the region. Much
of the work to be done there could wind up in the floors and ceilings
of River Mill Resort.
by Don Ward
Przewlockis plan calls for
turning this former business office
into a Panera Bread-style
restaurant, complete with a
wrap-around deck for outdoor dining.
Meantime, Przewlocki has hired restoration expert Tim
Adkins to begin refurbishing all 276 windows in the building. Many windows
have been removed and, all that can, will be restored and replaced.
That includes the wooden frames embedded in the brick walls that hold
the sliding glass panes in place.
Its a huge project, and Im honored to be part of it,
said Adkins, 58, a former Indiana Department of Natural Resources employee
who has worked on such renovations as the Lanier Mansion and New Albanys
Culbertson Mansion. A Madison native, Adkins moved to Nashville, Tenn.,
for three years where he recently completed renovating an Italianate
mansion in the upscale Belle Meade section for country music stars Tim
McGraw and Faith Hill.
That project had 700 windows that had to be restored, so I know
this project is definitely doable. This is an awesome project. You cant
let it overwhelm you. You must have a vision; keep it alive and keep
it moving. Any historic renovation of this size is a longterm project.
by Don Ward
Przewlocki says restoring
all the wood, brick and windows
at the site is a primary goal.
Adkins also worked on the late Minnie Pearls mansion
before he recently moved back to Madison and was hired over the telephone
by Przewlocki without even meeting him.
When it gets done, this building will talk, Adkins said.
Weve never seen anything down on the river like this. When
you drive over that bridge, this place is really going to be someplace
to see. It will speak.
A Wayne, Ill., resident, Przewlocki grew up near Chicago and attended
the University of Illinois-Champaign and later studied environmental
sciences at Boston College. He did not earn a degree but while in Boston
became interested in historic preservation and restorations taking place
on some of the citys historic buildings. He and some friends learned
the trade while working on several projects in the area.
by Don Ward
the appearance of the
dilapidated former Meese building,
developer Bob Przewlocki said
the foundation and walls are sound
and its architecture impressive.
By the early 1980s, Przewlocki had moved back to northern
Illinois and formed his own company, Preservation Trades Inc. The company
has completed many public and private restoration projects in the Chicago
area. One recent project involved dismantling, transporting and re-assembling
an 1800s barn in Iowa to Kankakee County, Ill., 200 miles away. The
former barn now serves as an educational facility for Bourbonnais Township
The thing I liked about working with Bob is that he is pretty
flexible. He can smooth things out and help people stay focused,
said John McGinnis, who served as the parks director at the time of
the barn relocation project. McGinnis is now a private consultant who
has twice visited the River Mill Resort site in Madison. He is considering
joining the team to help with condo pre-sales in the Chicago area.
I really enjoyed working with Bob and learning about new green
technologies for rehabbing historic sites and making them viable for
todays use. He combines old craftsmanship and new technology;
hes really geared toward green technology.
During his presentation to the Historic Board of Review, Przewlocki
said solar panels would be used to help make the site energy self-sufficient.
He has already met with Cinergy officials about the possibilities.
by Don Ward
west side facade
shows the effects of
age on the 124-year
McGinnis said green is a fascinating new trend in historic
restoration of large sites. But he says that, in the end, the key to
the success of this project will be community involvement.
Its a beautiful town, and youve got a beautiful site
with a lot of possibilities, he said. Bob is very creative.
He can see things other people cant see. If he has a vision, he
can bring the vision to reality. I think when people see the vision,
its going to get them excited.
Przewlocki said he is eager to get started. So far, the work at
the site has been cleanup, planning and stabilization, but we are finally
ready to get moving on restoration, Przewlocki said Aug. 28 during
his second visit to Madison in a month. He plans to soon bring in his
own crew of a dozen restoration workers.
David Landau, Przewlockis business partner, has spent the past
year living in Madison and says he has fielded many questions from residents
about the renovation plans. He admits that the public has questioned
the newcomers credibility and their ability to actually deliver
on their promises to complete the project.
We have gone through many revisions of our plans, but we now have
it down to what we want, Landau said. People are more supportive
of it now because they see we are still here and sticking it out.
Przewlocki says the public will soon see significant changes taking
place on the riverfront in what he is calling the pinnacle project
of my career. Landau has developed two Internet websites to promote
the newly formed companies: www.rivermillresort.com and www.oldgrowthtradingco.com.
Marketing materials are being developed to sell the condos, Landau said.
We plan to start selling the condos first, but we are also looking
for tenants to operate clothing or jewelry stores and restaurants,
by Don Ward
Tim Adkins poses
with one of 276
windows he has been
hired to restore at
the former Meese
industrial site on the
The entire $20 million
project could take
three years to
new owner Bob
resides near Chicago.
They have been negotiating with a hotel chain to operate
the hotel. They have met with a restaurant group in Louisville to operate
a microbrewery restaurant. The house in front of the structure that
once served as an office is to be turned into a Panera Bread-style cafe
and restaurant, complete with a wrap-around deck for outdoor seating.
The plan also calls for a 200-seat theater, a glass factory, 8,000-square-foot
ballroom and production studio. In addition, Przewlocki hopes to include
space for an an educational program to promote historic preservation.
Thats a great idea for that building; its fabulous,
said John Staicer, executive director of Historic Madison Inc., the
preservation group that owns and operates seven historic properties
in downtown Madison. From what Ive read about Bob, hes
very capable of doing it. Hes been in the business a long time.
It would be a shame to throw a lot of money at that building and not
do it justice. But I think Bob will do it justice.
Staicer met again with Przewlocki in late August for an update on the
plans. HMI has offered any type of assistance to make the project a
success, Staicer said.
Its critical that we have someone who is involved in Madison
who is interested in preserving old buildings how they were
built, how they function and how they can be rehabilitated and returned
to their authenticity, Staicer said. I think we have that
in Bob, and that bodes well for a brighter future for us all.
Madison tourism director Linda Lytle said River Mill Resort would make
an ideal location for a future arts center. She met Przewlocki a year
ago when he first announced his development plans. Im really
impressed with him; hes a real preservationist, and whatever he
decides to do down there will probably be spectacular.
With the citys ongoing development of Madison Bicentennial Park
only a few blocks west on Vaughn Drive, Przewlocki envisions his project
as the entertainment playground that will complement the citys
public space, used primarily for festivals and events. He wants to eventually
develop a marina at the rivers edge of his condo-hotel project,
and he has been negotiating with other property owners along the riverfront
to purchase enough land to expand the reach of River Mill Resort. He
would not elaborate on those plans, saying only, We want to have
a large footprint on the riverfront because we think our project will
someday be a signature development in the downtown historic district.