Amici’s, Empire Mills awarded

Staff Written Featured, News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

The City of Madison prides itself on preserving its local history while enabling progress to move forward in order to improve the quality of life for its citizens. Two Madison businesses were honored last week for achieving that exact delicate balance between history and progress. 

Amici’s Italian Cafe, which took up residence in the historic Old Livery Stable building, and Empire Mills, which revamped the historic old oil mill, were given the Excellence in Rehabilitation award by the Georgia Trust of Historic Preservation on April 12. The Madison Historic Preservation Commission nominated these projects in recognition of the excellent work the owners of these buildings and businesses in adaptively reusing these historic buildings, said Ken Kocher, preservation planner for the City of Madison. 

“This year’s winners represent a tremendous dedication to restoring and revitalizing Georgia’s historic buildings and communities,” said Mark C. McDonald, president of The Georgia Trust. “We are proud to honor such deserving projects and individuals.” 

“I was pleasantly surprised by this honor,” said Mike Conrads, owner of the Old Livery Stable Building.  “ It took four-plus years of work with Amici’s Mike Torino, the help of the city planning team. A special thanks to Monica Callahan and Ken Kocher who guided us through the tax credits process that made this project financially viable, Joe Smith our architect and Andy Couch our contractor.  The Livery Stable has been around for over 100 years and now, with this investment, and all of the work done on the structure, it will be here for another 100 years!”

“Our old place was known as Madison’s living room. Well, our new place will be a new living room for Madison,” said Torino. “We envision this as a destination place for the community—a place for people to come and hang out and enjoy themselves.”

The Old Livery Stable Building has served several purposes since it’s construction in the early 1900s. 

“From saddled horses to classic automobiles to home hardware to Italian cuisine, the Livery Stable Building in the Historic District of Madison, Georgia, has served as a downtown conduit for several vital businesses for the local community since 1895,” said City Madison officials. 

“More than a century before the alluring scent of Amici’s flavorful cooking was wafting through the windows and doorways, the Old Livery Building began a stable for transportation horses in the early 1900s.

According to Preservation Planner Ken Kocher, the old Livery Stable Building played a pivotal role in the economic development of Madison throughout its existence. “The Madison Historic District is a collection of mid-nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century residential, commercial, and industrial buildings indicative of life in a rural county seat in Georgia. This area of the downtown was the center for the sale and livery of the horses and mules, the lifeblood of both transportation and agriculture…The building’s significance to the history of transportation is augmented by the fact that a portion of the building transitioned to auto repair by 1921,” explained Kocher. Eventually the Old Livery Stable was transformed into the Madison Hardware & Supply Store, and now the building has taken on a new role as one of Madison’s busiest restaurants. Since most of the original material of the Livery Stable are long gone, design plans focused on maintaining the original “spatial relationships” in the building, keeping the general openness of the structure and the treatment of historic openings such as doorways and windows in place. The appearance of the old wood plank ceiling and original floor structure was also maintained. 

“The Old Livery Stable’s rehabilitation for use as Amici’s expanded restaurant has increased the activity and vitality downtown. Always a draw, Amici’s new location brings larger numbers of people downtown throughout the day and evening,” said Kocher. 

“It is so gratifying now to drive by the Amici/ Livery and see lots of folks enjoying themselves with great food and a craft brew.  The building has new life and Amici’s has revitalized that section of West Washington Street.” said Conrads.  “The Georgia Trust’s recognition is truly an honor, but I am most pleased with the economic impact this renovation and our partnership  with Amici’s is having here in Madison.”

Empire Mills, a popular venue for weddings, galas and other boho-chic events, was once the Empire Cotton Oil Mill, which sat dormant since the 1970s until Hallie Duan, proprietor of Hallie Jane’s Catering, bought the property with 17,000 square feet of space  in 2012. Since then, she renovated and transformed multiple buildings on the property–carefully preserving the historical integrity of the old oil mill while adding the modern necessities and decor to create the perfect venue. 

“Since the first time I saw the old ‘oil mill’ I felt it was a very special property in dire need of restoration and a new purpose,” said Duan.  “I am thrilled to have received The Georgia Trust Award for Excellence in Rehabilitation. On behalf of Empire Mills and my talented team of fellow visionaries. This award highlights this amazing property loaded with character and historical significance. If that draws more people to beautiful Madison for a wedding or concert at Empire Mills, then YAY!  Everyone loves a comeback, right?” 

Duan, too, worked with the City of Madison to ensure the property retained its historical character while being birthed into a new life. 

“Empire Mills was restored following the guidelines of the Georgia State Historic Preservation Division and the National Park Service to suit the specific needs of a modern-day event venue,” said a statement from Empire Mills website.  “Our 17,000 square foot property includes two multi-room indoor event spaces as well as two outdoor courtyards. You are sure to fall in love at first sight.”

“Empire Mills is becoming increasingly popular every year, especially as a wedding venue, bringing visitors to stay in our hotels and touring downtown,” noted Kocher. 

“This was an excellent preservation opportunity for this historic resource,” officials from the Madison Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). “Whereas other potential uses, such as residences or offices, would divide the open spaces of the buildings, an event center called for maintaining them. Hallie approached the project in two phases.”

The HPC described process Hallie Duan underwent while rehabilitating the massive property. 

“Phase 1 was the rehabilitation of the meal and hull warehouse to house the existing operations of the catering business. One half of the building is used for its original purpose, a warehouse, albeit the items housed there are quite different than meal, seed, and hulls of the past The warehouse doors continue their function of loading and unloading access. The center portion of the building contains a large commercial kitchen and the end of the building is the location of the business office. Large windows on either end were reopened and repaired. Warehouse doorways were adapted as entrances, windows, or continued warehouse use. Historic sliding warehouse doors were fixed in place,” explained the HPC.  “Phase 2, the ambitious expansion of the business, encompassed the rehabilitation of the office as a bride’s room, the gin as a chapel/small event space, and the oil mill as a large event space. As with the warehouse, multiple warehouse doors were sympathetically adapted for new use. Unlike the warehouse, the mill building had a multitude of windows which fortunately retained the historic sashes. These unique wood and metal windows were restored in situ. The few remaining vestiges of the mill operation have been retained in place. The former boiler room provides restroom space and a small addition on the rear provides a service corridor to the kitchen. Even the former blacksmith shed has been pressed into service as an outdoor bar.”

These latest awards for Amici’s Madison and Empire Mills are another affirmation of Madison’s tireless dedication to honoring its local history while growing and evolving into a town of the future. 

According to a press release from the Georgia Trust, for more than 40 years, the Trust has recognized preservation projects and individuals throughout Georgia who have made significant contributions to the field of historic preservation. Awards are presented on the basis of the contributions of the person or project to the community and/or state and on compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

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