By Corey Poole
Residents may be skeptical of the City’s plans for a mixed-use development on Mill Street at the former ADM Southern Cotton Oil Mill, but the City feels the property isn’t being utilized.
“It could become something more productive to the community,” said Mayor Lee Posey. “Since I moved to Natchitoches I’ve been looking at that group of ugly buildings, trying to think what we could do with them.”
The City Council held a public hearing before its regularly scheduled meeting May 23 to discuss the development.
The anchor business for what will hopefully become a larger development in the future is Cane River Brewery.
Owners Cade Gentry and Justin Krouse will renovate the building and parking will be added behind it. Fencing will separate the building the owners chose to renovate and the rest of the mill site. There will also be separate access so the brewery and the City Public Works Department can function independently.
The Public Works Department will continue to work in its current location, but plans will be made to begin a slow transition to a new location as other businesses express interest in locations within the development. Gentry and Krouse graduated from NSU where they majored in hospitality and tourism management. Gentry moved to Shreveport after college and works at a casino. Krouse is the general manager at a restaurant on Front Street.
“Natchitoches is in my roots,” said Gentry.
Working in restaurant and marketing industries in the past, customers always asked them what they’d recommend for a local beer. While there are several breweries in the state, none of them are a true local beer, which is what Natchitoches needs, according to Gentry.
While working on plans for a restaurant, the idea for the brewery took root.
“We have a chance to make something good here,” said Krouse. “We saw there was a demand for local products.”
They want to tie the names for their brews back to Natchitoches’ history and culture, paying tribute to such iconic names as St. Denis, Northwestern State University and more.
“I don’t want people to think it’s a bar,” said Krouse. The business will include a distribution operation, a taproom for tastings and an outdoor patio area.
“We want it to be an experience where people will come out and enjoy it. It will be a place for people to relax after work,” said Gentry.“The industrial look of the building fits right in with our style.”
They plan on brewing mostly ales because lagers require longer fermentation periods. While they plan to make their staple beer a light pale ale, they will also offer a mixture of darker craft beers.
“I’d like to see our beer all over the state within the next five years,” said Krouse.
Once plans are finalized, Gentry and Krouse want to attend the Siebel Institute in Chicago to study brewing science. The 143-year-old Institute has educated top beer makers.
They also plan to hire a brew master. “While we’ve experimented with brewing beer before we’ve never done it at such a large scale,” said Gentry.“A brew master will help, but we feel there’s still a lot we can learn at the institute.”
At the Council meeting Monday night, one resident asked if the City plans to sell or lease the buildings. The Council answered that it would be purchased because it wants to let the private businesses take care of themselves.
The City just invested $7-8 million for updates to the Water Treatment Plant, which will also continue to operate in its current location. The City is considering building another plant that could facilitate 8 million gallons a day. However, a move of this magnitude is a decision that could be a 20-30 year process. “This is something to look into for the future,” said Posey.
The City has 6-7 acres in the development, excluding the Water Treatment Plant and it is looking at purchasing additional property as the opportunity arises. The City has agreed that the “old timey” cotton press, one of only two in the nation, will be saved and turned into a tourist attraction. The development, which could be considered an extension of the Historic District, would have the same restrictions. This would limit what can be done to the exterior of the buildings on the property, but the general consensus is that they will be preserved to retain the industrial feel of the mill.
“Similar thing are going on in Ruston,” a community member said. “They have kept the external character of the property intact and the interior is converted for a full range of uses. This could be a gold mine.”
There are Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits that could apply to the development if the external look of the buildings is kept intact.
However, some residents are concerned about hours of operation and noise levels. The City requires noise to stop at 10:30 p.m. in the downtown area and the brewery will comply.
“Nothing is going to replace downtown,” said Councilman David Stamey. “The City is still going to invest heavily in the downtown area and nothing with affect the look and feel of the Historic District. It can go hand-in-hand with what we’re trying to create instead of being competition.”
Posey has talked to the Dept. of Transportation and Development (DOTD) about the possibility of moving Mill Street to the East or West side of the railroad tracks or bringing the road to run alongside Chaplain’s Lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will look at the property May 25 to see if a protected wetland area could be kept as a green space with the addition of walking and bike trails. Councilman Dale Neilsen said he’d like to see walking and bike trails connecting to Fort St. Jean Baptiste.
Another idea is a 60-passenger boat that could transport passengers from the downtown area to the development on Mill Street, but if this were to come to fruition, the Cane River Waterway Commission would become involved in the specifics.
The next step for the City is to get a price appraisal and see if any rezoning will be necessary. Posey said the Council will be proactive on this matter and public hearings will be held is any zoning changes need to be made.
“We want to make sure we communicate well with the people in the area,” he said.