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GASTONIA, N.C. -- Neighbors hope an old mill and eyesore in Gastonia, which is about to open as new loft-style apartments, will revitalize an area known for crime and blight.

Loray Mill is scheduled to open June 1, 2014. It features nearly 200 apartments plus shops.

The old mill, also formerly known as Firestone Mill, has been empty for 20 years.

Glenn Wiley s mother worked at the former textile and tire plant for more than 30 years. It was the site of a bloody 1929 labor strike, which claimed the life of two people, including Gastonia s police chief.

It s a personal thing, Wiley said. My whole family worked there.

Now his pawn business is right in front of it.

It's got to be great for business, Wiley said. He expects a 20 to 25 percent increase in business with the additional foot traffic.

From eyesore to asset is what Vickey and James Owens say the west side of Gastonia needs.

We've got a good street. We've got good people here, Vickey Owens said.

The couple also says they've got neighborhood drug dealers and boarded up businesses, both of which they want to go away.

The hope is the refurbished mill and extra tax dollars into city coffers will help do that.

Maybe they'll come back in here and do some work back in here like pave our roads and make it look better, she said.

History shows old mills either sit there, crumble, burn down, are torn down or refurbished.

According to Preservation North Carolina, there are 51 mill renovation projects across the state. About 20 percent are in small towns and the total investment of finished or current projects is about a billion dollars.

Mill renovations are driven in large part by state and federal tax credits, plus developers who recognize old mills often are in prime locations, have unique characteristics and architecture, and are made of brick and on large lots capable of handling a growing population.

I wouldn't want to see it torn down or burned down because there's a lot of history, Owens said.

That history will continue, just in a new form.
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