Inspired by volunteer energy and the creative designs of university students, a Thriving Community reaches for opportunity.
On Thursday, June 15, 2017, the Peerless Woolen Mill in Rossville, Georgia went on the auction block, selling to Catoosa County, GA businessman Steven Henry. "The Peerless," as it is known to locals, was at one time the center of Rossville's economy, employing 3,000 people in a 1 million square foot facility on 27 acres. The mill had sports and health care facilities, and employee housing that took up a big chunk of the valley between Missionary Ridge and Chattanooga Creek.
"The Peerless" in 1947. Note the ballfield and housing, all part of the mill community.
Since its permanent closure in 1980, the mill has been a crumbling reminder of Rossville's decline for many residents. But now, thanks to Mr. Henry, the Rossville Redevelopment Workshop, a direct outcome of our Thriving Communities creative place making project, and a vision from some University of Georgia design students, there may be hope for the old mill site.
In January 2016, a team of volunteers from Rossville participated in Thriving Communities, joining 28 other volunteers from communities around the region for an intensive exercise in leveraging community arts and culture assets to spark community vibrancy and economic development.
Elizabeth Wells (left), from the Thriving Communities team and Mayor Teddy Harris (right) at a Rossville Cleanup Day.
The outcome of the process was a vision and formal plan for utillizing Rossville's duck pond and the property around the historic John Ross House, but also a reinvigorated group of citizens who were inspired to dedicate their energies toward cleaning up their community.
Enter six lanscape architecture students from the University of Georgia, who spent an entire semester studying the Peeless Mill site through a partnership between the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Georgia Municipal Association. The results of their work were six different plans to position the Peerless, once again, as the center of business, arts and culture in the community.
University of Georgia student presents her design for the Peerless (Photo: Carl Vinson Institute of Government)
The combination of both the Redevelopment Workshop and the UGA fellows created a perfect storm of creativity and community will. In the past year, Rossvillians have rallied around town meetings, cleanups and events that are small steps toward a big future.
Community meeting in Rossville, February, 2017 (Photo: Rossville Redevelopment Workshop)
Mr. Henry, a Catoosa County Commissioner and owner of SMH Construction, hopes that he can reutilize much of the old facility if he can make the numbers work out. Auction bidders were warned that the building might contain environmental hazards and had stormwater runoff problems. But the old mill also contains industrial strength hardwood floors and breathaking views of the surrounding mountains and valley.
Rossville, Georgia has a lot going for it. EPB's gigabit network, easy access to the region's rail and interstate systems, low cost housing, and abundant fresh water put this little border town in a great position to be the next link in a chain of technology-driven innovation in our region.