Published: Apr 25, 2012 10:38 AM
Modified: Apr 25, 2012 10:40 AM
PITTSBORO - Chatham Mills has emerged from bankruptcy with a clear plan for paying its debts and growing into a cultural and business focal point for the community, co-owner Tom Roberts said.
The 28.48-acre retail and business center, established at the site of the former mill in 1997, filed for bankruptcy June 9. Roberts, a Hillsborough resident and vice president of Chatham Mills Development Corp., said the Chapter 11 reorganization was confirmed Feb. 9 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Roberts credited Mechanics & Farmers Bank in Durham, which holds nearly $4.9 million of the center’s debt, for working with him and co-owners Vaughn and Margaret Haight, of Florida, to develop the plan.
Chatham Mills has agreed to pay the debt at 4 percent interest over 35 years, with roughly $861,000 due in the next three years. The company also agreed to pay about $98,000 owed to S.T. Wooten Inc. of Wilson at 6 percent interest over three years, about $25,602 to the Internal Revenue Service and the N.C. Department of Revenue at 3 percent interest, and smaller debts to its remaining creditors at 2 percent interest over the next three years.
The reorganization plan also requires Chatham Mills to find at least two more tenants for 4,800 square feet of its available space in the next 30 months.
Roberts said they are in the process of renewing three leases that expired this year for UNC Dialysis, UNC Home Health and UNC Hospice, and are talking with other retail, office and service businesses about moving into the available space.
The mill is home to several businesses and nonprofits, from Chatham Transit to small startups like Joy of Movement and Starrlight Mead. It’s also home to Pittsboro’s only co-op grocery, Chatham Marketplace, and a weekly Farmer’s Market.
Roberts said closing the book on the center’s bankruptcy filing has eliminated a big distraction. The next five years will bring new energy to Chatham Mills, he said.
“It really does free us up to focus on what the next strategy is,” Roberts said.
There are plans to renovate the 10,000-square-foot Performing Arts & Events Center, which holds theater and musical performances, as well as private receptions, he said. Construction of a new upscale restaurant is also moving ahead in an adjacent space.
Chef Brendan Cox and his wife Leslie said they hope the new Oakleaf restaurant will help preserve the mill’s history and put the spotlight on fresh, local ingredients, some of which they plan to raise at their farm less than two miles away. They’re making connections with other local growers, too, particularly those who sell their crops at the mill’s Farmers Market
“If you’re not doing local, if you’re not doing sustainable, then you’re letting the market pass you by,” said Brendan Cox, a Washington, D.C., native and professional chef for 15 years.
Cox said they want to feature the mill’s rough brick walls, light-filled windows and thick overhead support beams in the restaurant’s decor. If the health department would let them, they would keep the original wood floors, too, he said.
Leslie Cox, a “recovering lawyer” who grew up in Sanford, said the mill is an important part of Pittsboro’s community history. Oakleaf will spotlight local craftsmanship, as well, with tabletops made by Heartwood Pine Floors Inc. and art from local metalworkers.
The restaurant “will be a part of the community, and we want the community to be invested as well,” she said.
When it opens – perhaps by mid-May, Cox said – Oakleaf will employ about 20 people and seat 64 to 75 diners for lunch, dinner and Saturday brunch.