Michigan Develops Economic Opportunities and a Sense of Pride in Communities of All Sizes

Angela Mulka

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Michiganders are known for their fierce pride in what makes their state unique, often using their hand as a frame of reference to share where they grew up, where they went to school or their favorite vacation destination...

The former Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg

This sense of pride manifests in other ways as well, with residents choosing to apply their passion for Michigan by giving back to their communities through crowdfunding projects, community capital investments and reactivating old buildings.

At the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), we strive to encourage these kinds of developments in communities by working with our local partners to create places that foster this sense of pride. With our focus of building vibrant, diverse and resilient spaces where people want to live, work and play, the MEDC is committed to supporting both rural areas and urban cores in making their communities places that people of all ages can enjoy.

This sense of pride and investment was recently showcased by Michigan-native Chris Moore when he returned to his hometown of Vicksburg to create a vibrant space that would attract businesses, community members and tourists alike. Moore is planning to transform an abandoned historic paper mill into an $80 million mixed-use development that will feature a taproom among other attractions like brewing and distilling facilities, museums, music, a hotel, tons of jobs and more with support from the Michigan Strategic Fund.

Chris Moore at the former Lee Paper Mill in Vicksburg

Moore is a Seattle-based entrepreneur, whose family has lived in Vicksburg since the 1830s. Moore's mission is to create a thriving Vicksburg for generations to come — and with the state’s shared passion for doing just that in communities throughout Michigan, Moore is setting out to make The Mill at Vicksburg a regional destination and an economic engine that will drive his hometown’s economy.

Built in 1903, the former Lee Paper Mill has defined manufacturing in Vicksburg and impacted every aspect of life in the village for nearly 100 years. Moore is celebrating that legacy by restoring the original building with cutting-edge improvements that will transform the former industrial site into a hub for the community, businesses and visitors to enjoy. “The Mill at Vicksburg” will become Michigan’s second transformational brownfield project, serving as a catalyst for additional economic activity in the region and solidifying the state’s commitment to using economic development tools to support companies and communities of all sizes throughout the state. 

Uniquely, Moore's grandfather and father worked at the mill throughout their professional careers, and he often visited them, fascinated by the scale of the colossal operation. While Moore was in college, he worked summers at the mill. As an adult, Moore moved to the Pacific Northwest where he launched a tech company focused on bringing automation to manual workflows in healthcare. Later he founded Old Stove Brewery, the only craft brewery located in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

But Moore never forgot his roots. Devoted to his hometown's past, Moore set his sights on saving the mill from the wrecking ball in 2014. 

“I was sitting on my deck in Seattle, it was a nice sunny morning, I had a latte and the Seattle Times, and was checking to see about the Mariners game the night before. Then, mom calls and she's in tears saying the mill is going to be torn down. I remember sitting there thinking, ‘that's too bad nobody can do anything with it. Things change, but there's nothing I can do.’ But, a couple months later I got a tour of the mill,” Moore said.

“The light bulb went off during the visit. I was standing on the roof of the machine room, and thought it'd be an awesome place for a concert. We've held true to that idea ever since, but it's blossomed into another standing of three uses that are key for making this place financially sustainable, and that is: beer making, beer tourism, an event center and music,” he continued.

According to Moore, because of the capabilities and capacity of this unique location, The Mill at Vicksburg will be a one-of-a-kind platform to host an enterprise-level cluster of products and services, spanning multiple industries, all in one place.

“What's so special about The Mill is that if you come for just one of those main uses, you have the other uses available. We've got an incredible site here, with a beautiful river flowing through it. All the people we've spoken to in the music industry say there is nothing like it. By adding all the different activities together, the Mill transcends all other venues. It's a completely different experience to interact with this kind of historic building.”

Moore is bringing his passion for beer brewing to The Mill by not only establishing an Old Stove taproom in the development, but also by supporting other fledgling microbreweries through a beer incubator space. The Mill will also house a brewery museum that will celebrate the importance if regional breweries to local communities. Moore is even asking collectors to share their beer memorabilia with the museum to maintain authenticity. 

Courtesy of Paper City Development LLC

The project, to be completed in 2024, is also a great example of sustainable philanthropy. Moore believes in environmentally sustainable development and economically sustainable philanthropy. An environmentalist from an early age, he is thrilled to have the opportunity to repair the harm done to the land, river and wetlands that surround The Mill, building on Michigan’s recent efforts to join the movement to build sustainable communities throughout the state.

Choosing to make The Mill an environmentally friendly development has even allowed for partnerships with Vicksburg Schools, where local students will have an opportunity to learn through different Ag-science projects on The Mill property that have been coordinated with educators. The unique, hands-on experience gives additional meaning to the students’ traditional curriculum while at the same time helping young people recognize the tremendous impact they can have on their own communities.

Moore’s ambitious undertaking to rehabilitate the former industrial site, which has sat dormant for nearly two decades, will soon have a big impact as a vital commercial and entertainment landing place for the entire region. As Moore continues working to make his vision a reality, he can rest easy knowing that the state of Michigan shares his commitment to supporting economic opportunities in communities like Vicksburg for centuries to come.

For the full announcement, visit here, to learn more about Moore's vision for The Mill, visit here, to see why manufacturers are choosing Michigan visit here and for more Michigan economic development news, visit here.

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