Jordan and Jeremy Grant

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Back Issues, Local Heroes, Winter 2011

November 21, 2011

Local Heroes: Jordan and Jeremy Grant restored The Alton Mill: A showcase for the arts

Jordan and Jeremy Grant: Two of our 2011 Local Heroes

BROTHERS IN ARTS

Jordan and Jeremy Grant are the men behind the $5-million restoration of this 1881 limestone building, now a central showcase for the arts in Headwaters.

The developer brothers, owners of The Seaton Group, inherited their vision for the Alton Mill from their father Jack. He had first got to know the property in the late 1980s, and could see possibilities for redevelopment. When the Grants took over ownership in the early 1990s, they considered various options. “We looked at the possibility of loft condos or seniors’ housing, but there were too many obstacles,” Jordan says. “Ultimately we decided a public use is the highest and best use.” And so the idea of an arts centre began taking shape.

The building complex was originally a textile mill and later a rubber factory that produced balloons and condoms. But industrial operations ceased in 1982 and the vacated 23,000-square-foot building fell victim to vandals and rot, though most of the stone walls remained solid.

Jordan says, “We knew it could be a huge heritage asset, but there was also a huge hurdle: the cost of restoration didn’t compute with the potential revenue. There was no way it could work without gap funding.”

Forming a partnership with Headwaters Arts, a non-profit association of 160 artists in the region, the brothers obtained $1.75 million in federal and provincial grants, contributing $3.25 million of their own to finance the project. Just as important, says Jeremy, was that the partnership “provided an entry into the arts community. Our tenants are members.” Headwaters Arts’ office is located in the mill. It has access to a gallery, and earns a percentage of some sales. “It’s an ongoing arrangement with no end date,” Jeremy says.

While a small easterly portion of the building was opened in 1997, the larger westerly space didn’t open until January, 2009. In total there are 20 studios, together with three art galleries, retail shops, a café, a small museum and space for special events, such as weddings or business functions. Situated next to its historic millpond on Shaw’s Creek, complete with dam and waterfall, the mill’s beautiful grounds also host theatre, music and art events.

After a couple of years in full operation, the vision has taken root. Occupancy and attendance have been consistently high, and Jordan says the centre is “covering its costs, though there’s been no return on the financial equity, or the sweat equity.”

The Grants have been recognized with a Heritage Canada Foundation National Achievement Award for their work, but they’re not done yet. Turning their attention to the millpond, Jeremy and Jordan are working with a stakeholder committee to improve its value, both as an environmental and cultural resource. They’re also considering the dam’s potential for power generation. Other projects are underway too: There’s a plan to put a roof on the adjacent annex building, currently an open courtyard; they’re further developing the site’s potential for special events; and they’re considering starting a farmers’ market.

“Clearly there’s a human element here,” Jeremy says, coming back to the motivation behind such a monumental two-decade-and-counting project. “Some people think we’re cuckoo for taking this on, but we didn’t do it for the money.”

More Information

Our fourth annual celebration of extraordinary people, meet our other heroes

Jeff Rollings is a freelance writer living in Orangeville.

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