The quest to create a local cultural hub out of the historical Louise Rice Mill has been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but community leaders still have big plans for the future.
Members of the community and of the Louise-Hillje Chamber of Commerce have been working for more than a decade to renovate the old mill, which was last owned by BU Growers Ltd. of Bay City.
The property sat empty for years before it was taken over by the chamber. Since then, various local fundraisers and donors have funded renovation projects on the property.
“Up until this year, we were pretty steady doing big projects and keeping things going,” Chamber President Liz Lovejoy said.
The most recent renovations involved adding large ceiling fans to provide cool air inside the building. The chamber had those installed earlier this year, around January. Last summer, the major milestone for the project was a new roof that was added.
Members of the community were eager to use the mill for weddings, parties and other events, Lovejoy said, but the pandemic dashed those plans.
“We had so many calls for renting it right before COVID-19 hit,” she said.
Since March, chamber events such as the annual spring and fall festivals, which were planned to be sources of revenue for the mill project, had to be canceled.
While a large part of the mill’s renovations are completed, the chamber still has a few projects planned for the future. Additional repairs, which include painting the inside walls and adding paneling and flooring to the bathrooms, are on hold due to the pandemic. The old silo buildings next to the mill also have some areas where the metal needs to be replaced.
The biggest next step for the mill, however, will be the outdoor walking trail and picnic area.
“We mapped it out last year, and we were kind of getting it ready to go,” Lovejoy said. “It’s just been on hold.”
The chamber’s plans are to add a quarter-mile walking path in the green space near the property. Picnic tables and barbecue pits will also be added to complete the outdoor space.
Funds have largely been raised to cover the expenses of the walking trail project, except for the cost of labor needed to build everything, Lovejoy said.
“We’re just so proud of what we’ve done so far, and we’re so grateful to all of our donors that we’ve had,” she added.
Donations for the project are always appreciated and needed and can be made by contacting the Chamber Secretary, Shelly Fritz, at 979-541-7056.
With the pandemic still ongoing, the status of upcoming chamber events and fundraisers is uncertain, and the chamber does not have a set deadline for when the mill will be completely renovated.
“It’s a slow process, because it just takes so much money to do everything required on such a big property,” Lovejoy said.
In the meantime, the chamber has been renting out the old Louise Scout hall, which was renovated over the summer. Small events have been held there in recent months, with capacity limited due to the pandemic.
The Chamber will be hosting a cook-off tailgate benefitting the Mill Project from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the mill. Entry is $25 and prizes will be awarded in several cooking catagories.
For more information on the event, visit the Chamber’s Facebook page.