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With help of historic tax credit, plan to transform former Oella mill into apartments moves ahead

Plans are moving ahead to transform what had been Maryland’s last active grain mill into apartments, a $55 million project on the banks of the Patapsco River in Oella that this week was awarded $3 million in historic revitalization tax credits.

The redevelopment of the more-than-century-old mill was among six projects awarded more than $9 million in tax credits Tuesday through the Maryland Historical Trust.

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Developer Terra Nova Ventures LLC plans to build Ellicott Mill, a mixed-use project of 190 apartments, ground-level retail, a restaurant and a museum within the original structure. The developer has financing in place, and said the newly awarded tax credits will help with the equity side.

“That’s an important piece of the equity portion of the financing of the project,” said David Tufaro, principal and founder of Terra Nova. “That was a big day.”

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Terra Nova purchased the former Wilkins-Rogers mill in August 2020, after the milling operation was closed and relocated to the Midwest last year.

The closure ended more than two centuries of milling in and around Ellicott City, dating back to a mill established on the same site by the Ellicott brothers in 1774. A succession of owners of the site had run mills continuously up to the Wilkins-Rogers business, which operated the Frederick Road mill since 1969.

The Wilkins-Rogers Mills facility in Oella, across the river from historic Ellicott City, which shut down in early 2020, is slated to be transformed into apartments.
The Wilkins-Rogers Mills facility in Oella, across the river from historic Ellicott City, which shut down in early 2020, is slated to be transformed into apartments. (Jerry Jackson)

The existing mill building, across the river from Ellicott City’s historic downtown, was built starting in 1916 and includes large silos on the exterior and interior.

Besides the mill conversion, other projects awarded tax credits by the Maryland Department of Planning division included the $7 million rehabilitation of the Becker Bros./Gieski & Niemann Tobacco Warehouse on North Washington Street in East Baltimore. The three-story, cast-iron and brick warehouse, built in 1875 and used in the tobacco industry, will be redeveloped with the help of $1.8 million in credits into commercial and retail space.

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An additional $3 million was awarded to the now-vacant Eastern Health District/Huntington Williams Building on North Caroline Street in Baltimore, a mid-20th-century-style building from 1953 that will be converted into laboratory and office space in a $15 million project.

The tax credit program has invested more than $425 million in Maryland rehabilitation projects since it began in 1996.

Tufaro said his firm competed with others to redevelop the former mill, but he feels especially qualified given Terra Nova’s historic preservation work on two former Baltimore mills, both located in 100-year flood plains.

Mill No. 1, a former cotton mill along the Jones Falls, was converted to apartments, offices and restaurants, and Whitehall Mill, another historic mill in Hampden, was converted to apartments, offices, a restaurant and a market. Tufaro said the Oella mill was built to withstand flooding but that additional steps will be taken to protect the property.

Like the Baltimore mill projects, the Oella grain mill is well suited to apartments and in an ideal location, the developer said.

“It’s very visible and at the gateway to Ellicott City,” Tufaro said. “It’s close to a lot of jobs, and people can live there and can walk to Ellicott City.”

Apartments are expected to lease in a range of $1,600 to about $2,500 a month, and the project includes a gym. Plans also include about 5,000 square feet of retail, a high-end restaurant with indoor and outdoor capacity for about 200 people, and a small museum affiliated with one of the area’s historical societies.

Tufaro said a brewery could end up as a potential use for some of the nine exterior 90-foot-tall silos.

Terra Nova is aiming for a spring construction start and 16 to 18 months of work, including gutting the interior and restoring the rest with features such as historically accurate industrial windows. Architectural plans are in the design phase, and the firm hopes to submit building permit plans to Baltimore County in about a month. The project is expected to be completed by fall 2023, with some apartments and the restaurant opening earlier.

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