Taking center stage in northwest Georgia’s booming chenille industry, B.J. Bandy built what was likely the largest factory of its kind, Bartow Textiles, in 1941. The 47,000-square-foot, all-brick structure at the corner of Erwin and Cook streets is undergoing restoration at the hands of Cartersville’s John Lewis and his partner, Dean Lewis of White.
John, a retired lawyer and avid real estate redeveloper, was the first to see potential in the old building. Recognized in 2012 by the Georgia Cities Association for his efforts in preservation, John saw an opportunity where others saw a liability.
“Nobody saw the potential. They just saw an old, run-down building, but all I could see was potential,” John Lewis said. “It was built in 1941 and it has been a number of things — there’s been probably six or seven different industries down here.
“At the time it was built, it was the largest chenille plant in the world, and they built it right — they put some good material in here.”
Working with the solid foundation afforded them from the Bandy family, John and Dean Lewis cleared out the trash left behind by former tennants and squatters to reveal a structurally sound and architecturally fit building.
After nearly a year of work, including the addition of necessary utilities, the Bandy Building welcomed their first tennant, Grey and Kaysi Darrah of Darrah Photo. Taking 3,000 square feet at the building’s front entrance, Darrah Photo moved from Friendship Plaza in downtown Cartersville to their new home at 100 Cook St. on Oct. 31, 2012.
“We’ve been in here since Halloween and it’s been wonderful,” Kaysi Darrah said. “John was always courting us to be a tennant somewhere, but he never had a space big enough.
“When he bought this building, he called and said, ‘I know we can make this work.’ And it’s just been great.”
Darrah Photo has had neighbors drop by from Americo Manufacturing next door and residents down the street. Those living or working in the area have expressed their relief to see the building being transformed.
“The neighbors are thrilled to see something happening. They’ve told us it’s been an eyesore for so long and they’re so glad it’s being renovated,” Kaysi Darrah said. “John went over and above what we expected. He basically said, ‘Draw up the blueprints and I’ll build it.’ I got to pick the flooring, the paint, the light fixtures, every detail in this place. It was like building a custom home and it’s wonderful.
“But the building itself is just really neat. It’s a cool, industrial building. We left the old, metal trusses exposed and put in these old retro lighting fixtures that keep with the feel of the building.”
Darrah Photo may be the first tenant at 100 Cook St., but they will be far from the last. John and Dean Lewis, who are both quick to tell others there is no relation, have zoned the building for multi-use, including retail, commercial and residential.
John Lewis manages several properties in downtown Cartersville, but the seven loft apartments are his most popular. In fact, he has already heard demand for additional apartments in the Bandy Building.
“I think this is the perfect place for loft apartments. We’ve got probably four or five people that already want them,” John Lewis said. “Whether or not they can afford for us to renovate them, I just don’t know, but in a space this big, we can do just about anything. It would probably be too expensive to fill it with lofts.
“We want to put a restaurant here in the front and then loft apartments. We’ve got it zoned where we can go commercial, retail or residential. So we can put, within reason, what we want to put in here — of course, that will depend on what compliments other tenants, what’s harmonious between each other.”
John Lewis estimates there will likely be about 15 tenants when the project builds out. His partner in the project, Dean Lewis owner of Old Car City, shared one of the possible visions for the building, describing it as an indoor main street of small shops and restaurants.
“What we’d like to do is make an indoor mall,” Dean Lewis said. “Just imagine a hall down the middle with brick storefronts and rock storefronts and glass storefronts and picture going down the street in Paris, France or something like that — that’s what I’ve got in mind.”
Currently, a custom-built, oversized door welcomes visitors to a short hallway with a stamped-tin ceiling leading to Darrah Photo’s studio and gallery. In the future, the hallway could widen to mimic a downtown street with storefronts on either side. Elsewhere in the building, original pieces will add industrial accents and reminders of the building’s original purpose.
Windows 4-foot-by-10-foot stretch the length of the building allowing light to flood into the now-empty space. In the rear of the building, a cast iron heater stands some 20 feet tall in a room that has lost its roof and could one day house exterior seating for a restaurant or a patio for guests.
On the building’s east side, facing Erwin Street, are two additional rooms jutting out from the main rectangular body of the structure. At about 1,200 square feet each, these rooms, with their own entrances, may house loft-style apartments.
“This is a massive undertaking,” John Lewis said. “Every other building I’ve ever bought was relatively small. You would go in and renovate that building and rent it to one person. This building, we’ll wind up with probably 15 tenants before it’s over.
“I think this project is going to outlive me. Because of the expanse of the project and the state of the economy, this project has been a slow-go — and you can’t just rent to anyone, you need a good mix of tenants.”
The size and scope of the project have, however, presented John and Dean with their fair share of challenges, which have led the pair to nearly call it quits more than once, but their commitment to a shared vision have kept them coming back.
“There have been some discouragements along the way. At one point, John was ready to back down, and at one point, I was that way,” Dean said. “There were issues with EPA and other things. One time I called John and told him I was out, I couldn’t do it, but he talked me back into it and I’ve had to do the same with him. So it’s been a ride, up and down, but we’re excited.
“I love the challenge. I like doing what other people won’t do. If you do like everybody else, you’re like everyone else. I like to do things different, you might make a hit — you never know. Sometimes, I’m waiting on the alarm clock so I can go down there and work.”
The actual purchase of the building, which was finalized in December 2011, was in itself a feat. The bank that owned the property was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company. John and Dean wound up purchasing the paper from the FDIC then filing foreclosure on the building and taking possession of the Bandy Building out of foreclosure.
Having gone to such lengths to purchase the building and taking great care in cleaning up the property, John and Dean now look forward to finishing the renovation and redesign process.
For more information on the building and leasing space, call John Lewis at 770-386-1978.