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Company eyes a rebirth of former stocking mill in Martinsburg

December 13, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Frederick, Md., company hopes to return the economic boom to the historic Interwoven Stocking Co. mill complex, a sprawling manufacturing site on the fringe of downtown Martinsburg.

Little more than a year after Ridgecrest Investments Inc. invested in the property that spans more than a city block south of West King Street, project manager Mike Muren said the private equity firm is eyeing a "live-work" self-contained community concept plan.

"You could spend days here without ever leaving this facility," said Mike Muren while giving a tour of the buildings that once housed a world-renowned hosiery manufacturing operation.

Sunlight streaming through large windows and rooftop glass now illuminates little more than green paint peeling from the walls, but Muren said the company has received considerable interest in the property and its 450,000 square feet of space.

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It's just not ready, yet.

"If there was another developer that wanted to come in and sublease an entire floor from us, we'd be open to that," Muren said.

One floor in one building equals 12,000 square feet.

"You could turn this into 10 market-size condos, easily," Muren said.

In another mill building across a two story, copper-shelled walkway south of West John Street, one floor equals 33,000 square feet.

While the exact interior plans for the Interwoven buildings are not finalized, Muren said the company is planning to move forward with basic renovations to "rough out" the space for prospective tenants.

A terraced outdoor courtyard depicted in a schematic design on brochures about the property will be built to attract additional investment, Muren said.

Smaller outbuildings next to the courtyard area might be viable spaces for restaurants, he said.

"This is a big project, I think by anyone's standards," Muren said.

No stranger to renovating old buildings, including the Westview office complex and the Action Products building in Hagerstown, Muren said Ridgecrest never has tackled the renovation of so much space at one site.

The company's investment in Martinsburg is most apparent along Winchester Avenue in a building that once housed the Perfection Garment Co., a dress manufacturer.

New windows, plumbing and electrical systems helped make way for the opening of Laber's Office Furniture on Dec. 1. The grand opening for the new and used furniture supplier's 20,000-square-foot store at 301 Winchester Ave. is set for Jan. 12, according to store officials.

Next door, the owner of Nutmeg Lodge, a quilting business, was one of the first people to approach Muren about moving into the building.

"I think this is a part of town that's going to grow," Nutmeg Lodge owner Barbara Bradley said. "It's been great for my business."

Years ago, Bradley said the phrase "socks, frocks and rocks" was mentioned when folks asked where you were going to work.

According to historical accounts, Interwoven eventually became the largest selling brand of men's socks in the world and once employed more than 1,400 people. A company advertisement in the 1920s boasted that Interwoven Mills operated the largest plant in the world devoted exclusively to the manufacture of high-grade hosiery for men.

On March 20, 1970, the closing of all hosiery manufacturing operations in the city and the layoff of 375 of 475 employees was announced, according to historical research. The remaining workers were laid off in 1971.

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