Danville plans to redevelop the White Mill and adjacent covered bridge, which have both been out of use for years. Photo by Grace Mamon. 

The project that will transform the White Mill, the massive historic riverfront property that was once a crucial site for the Dan River Mills industry in Danville, will break ground today. 

The Danville Industrial Development Authority and the Alexander Company, a Wisconsin-based developer, closed financing on the public-private partnership, and construction has finally begun, after many delays. 

This $85 million project, which began in 2018 with a tweet, will renovate the vacant 550,000-square-foot building into commercial and retail space on the bottom floor, and 150 apartments on the upper floors. 

The units will include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and 32 units will be reserved for individuals and families earning up to 80% of area median incomes, said a Jan. 10 release from the city about the groundbreaking ceremony. 

The same release included renderings of what the White Mill might look like upon completion. 

“Construction crews began mobilizing on site in December to begin transforming the distinctive, reinforced-concrete structure into a unique community, incorporating distinguished apartments, neighborhood-serving retail, and collaborative office spaces, nestled within a new riverfront park to be enjoyed by all,” the release said.  

The riverfront park is a separate project from the White Mill restoration, as is the rehabilitation of the formerly covered bridge that runs from the mill across the Dan River. But the city is working to coordinate the completion of all three projects toward the end of 2024. 

The first steps in the construction process include addressing lead paint on the walls and large columns throughout the building, as well as leveling the uneven floors. 

The White Mill project is significant to the city not only because of its scale, but also because of the historic importance of the site. Dan River Mills once ran Danville’s economy, and the White Mill was a major landmark for the industry. 

“White Mill is one of the last remaining physical expressions of Danville’s role as a textile-manufacturing powerhouse,” the release said. “This long-awaited development is a reimagining steeped in history, with Danville’s past, present, and future reflected throughout.”

Many city officials, including City Manager Ken Larking and City Council member Lee Vogler, have called the vacant White Mill a physical reminder of the loss of the textile industry, saying it has affected the psyche of the community. 

“That building, for several years, has shown that Danville’s best days were behind us,” Vogler said in a December interview with Cardinal. “Now, once it’s done, it’s going to show that our best days are in front of us.”

Joe Alexander, president of the Alexander Company, said that “you can’t tell the story of Danville without the White Mill,” in the release. 

“Life and industry are returning to the White Mill, and we’re proud to have the opportunity to be a part of the transformation,” Alexander said. 

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.