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In Rocky Mount, A Historic Redevelopment With Craft Beer Driver

January 12, 2018

For 200 years an abandoned cotton mill along the Tar River in Rocky Mount has been a symbol of resilience, burned down by Union troops, rebuilt, accidentally burned again, rebuilt again and then ceasing operations in 1996 with the collapse of the textile industry. Now the plant is churning back to life as a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project called Rocky Mount Mills, a mix of offices, lofts, cottages, common areas and start-up breweries that could help the economically distressed region an hour’s drive east of Raleigh. Its 60-some mill houses are being turned into rental dwellings, each with a washer-dryer, charcoal grill, free landscaping, and an American flag on the front porch. There is a waiting list for the next vacancy. The Rocky Mount project relies substantially on North Carolina’s newest economic driver: craft beer. The number of independent breweries statewide has increased in seven years from 45 to more than 230 and has built a $1.2 billion industry, according to the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild. Eastern North Carolina, however, has lagged in breweries. This new beer outpost could shift the market eastward. “Brewery incubators were sort of the catalyst for getting started,” Chavez said. “This idea that if we could break down some of the financial hurdles that brewers face, we could expand and change the complexion of the brewing industry, or at least offer an alternative for folks that may not have all the financial resources ready and available to them to buy a half-million dollars worth of equipment and real estate.” Now she is a server at Washington Street Grille, a new restaurant owned by Darrell Brown, formerly executive chef of The Pit in Raleigh and Maggiano’s Little Italy in Durham, and his brother. Signs of life like that make people like Graham see things turning around. “I hope so,” she said, adding that the mill is just one part of the hoped-for comeback. “They’re going to bring us a lot of jobs.”

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