Avondale Estates possibly getting closer to developing old mill site

This is the 13-acres of concrete owned by Avila Real Estate that will change Avondale Estates significantly when it’s finally developed. The city-owned five acres is partially shown in the lower right of this photo, mostly marked by tree tops. Courtesy of Avila Real Estate.

By creating an Urban Redevelopment Agency in June, Avondale Estates officials hope they are getting closer to breaking ground on a five-acre downtown development. This project would include a two-acre park that could become the city’s social and economic center, along with two commercial/retail buildings fronting the park and facing U.S. 278.

Sam Collier, executive director of Avondale’s Downtown Development Authority, has called this project a potential “catalyst.” In part this means that developing the five acres could directly influence development of the much larger Fenner-Dunlop Mill site just north of downtown. This totals 13 acres of mostly concrete landscape—the old mill buildings were demolished years ago—and owned for the last five years by Avila Real Estate.

As of now Decatur-based Fabric Developers is the only firm qualified to design and build the commercial portion that would front the park. Looming ahead are complex negotiations with Fabric that may take the better part of this year. Avondale’s November elections, with three council seats up for grabs, may yet figure in those negotiations.

Nevertheless in May representatives from Fabric gave a presentation that included a preliminary design for the five acres. Observers were surprised the design also included sketches of the Avila site, indicating a possible collaboration between Avila and Fabric.

“All we can gather is that Fabric and Avila are in some sort of discussion,” said City Manager Patrick Bryant. “But that’s all we know. That [presentation] was a concept, and a very loose one at that, of what it could look like. We, the city, are not in discussion with Avila, and Avilla has submitted no project to us.”

In Oct. 2017, a year before Bryant was on board, Avila presented an informal site plan for the 13 acres to several members of the city’s staff, commission and Downtown Development Authority, although not in a public setting. Mayor Jonathan Elmore said at the time the drawing included about 400 to 500 block-style apartments and 60 townhomes off Laredo Drive, estimating it would add roughly 1,500 to the city’s population.

But no more has been heard of that concept in the two years since. Since buying the property in 2014 Avila has never appeared at any Avondale Estates public meeting.