Habersham County: New Life For An Old Mill

Danny Otter calls the whole thing a fortunate accident. After all, he wanted to buy only a small strip of land to give him better access to property he owned next to the recently abandoned Clarkesville Mill, just off the square in Clarkesville.

You may buy it all, the realtor said, or none of it.

“The realtor just kept calling me and calling me and calling me,” Otter says. “He called me one day and just to shut him up, I told him that when you’re ready to sell it for 25 cents on the dollar, I’ll buy it from you.”

In about two hours, Otter’s phone rang again. He had just bought 71 acres of land near the Soque River and a cold, leaky textile mill that contained enough space for five football fields. His cost: $750,000.

Now what?

Now this: Since closing on the property on Hwy. 441 in September 2002, Otter estimates he has spent $2 million transforming the mill – now called Old Clarkesville Mill – into a retail, manufacturing and entertainment center with 17 businesses. It features everything from a bowling alley to a bedding manufacturer that makes high-end linens for such celebrities as Elizabeth Taylor and Oprah Winfrey.

“Not until I agreed to buy it did I have any ideas,” Otter says. “It was more a fortunate accident than a brilliant master plan.” Otter credits his team at Otter Construction & Realty: Vicki Wineland, marketing director, and his assistants, Connie Sayer and Rob Hand with the success so far.

One of the biggest draws is the Art and Antiques Mall, owned by Gail and Greg Kimsey. The Kimseys were well known in the business before they opened in Old Clarkesville Mill. They had operated for several years in a barn, The Art-Full Barn, next to the mill.

Today the Kimseys can count 100 vendors with others waiting. “Business has been better than we expected,” Gail Kimsey says.

To help finance his work on the mill, Otter is developing a residential community behind the complex, selling homes ranging from $150,000 to $650,000. Some lots front the Soque River. He also plans office/retail condominiums for people who want to run a business downstairs and live in an apartment upstairs. The complex eventually will include 45 single-family homes and 10 professional townhouses.

Son of a bricklayer in nearby Lumpkin County, Otter started laying brick when he was 12 and got into real estate after moving to Haberhsham County in the late 1970s. Old Clarkesville Mill is his largest project to date.

“It’s very positive as a tourist-attraction site,” says Charlie Miller, chairman of the Habersham County Industrial Development Authority. “It’s a huge project and one that I certainly support.”

Otter says he has enjoyed converting the old mill, especially the conceptual part. “It’s not about the money as it is about doing cool, different stuff,” he says. “I want it to be fun. Life is too short.”

Categories: Northeast