Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris is adding historic touches to redevelopment plans for the 1830s-era Ozark Mill, which he’s owned for 25 years.
An ice cream and coffee shop called The Post, located across the Finley River from the mill, serves as Phase I of the Ozark Mill project and it’s expected to open in the first half of 2019, said Jack Wlezien, communications director for the Bass Pro Group.
“At one point there was a small post office on-site. You had to go to the mill once a week to get your mail,” he said. “This was a place that people would gather.”
Wlezien said the 1,300-square-foot shop is intended to help link the Ozark Mill to the city’s downtown.
The choice for beverages and dessert was strategic.
A spring survey of 300 Ozark residents by the nonprofit Historic River District found coffee and ice cream are desired in downtown Ozark, said Megan Morris, vice president of the nonprofit’s board. Other requests for revitalization include dining, businesses with evening hours, breweries, boutiques, trails, festivals and events, a farmers market and Finley River access, said Morris, who is Johnny Morris’ daughter and a Bass Pro team member on the mill project.
“People think that the downtown area is quaint and historic but that there’s room for improvement,” she said. “We want to bring people back downtown and invigorate a lot more energy into the area.”
Morris said plans are still being finalized on the Ozark Mill and the surrounding area, but further development would be guided by feedback from community members. Johnny Morris owns 32 acres surrounding the mill.
Preliminary plans for the mill structure include historic tours, dining, an event venue and enhanced riverfront access for kayaking and other activities, Wlezien said.
“They’re going to experience something that is literally a living artifact,” he said.
The mill was lifted and temporarily relocated this year so crews can rebuild its foundation. Officials say interior restoration of the mill is expected to start later this year after it returns to the original site.
Revitalization in the city of Ozark is not confined to Morris’ properties.
“What we’ve heard from Ozark, both the residents and the city officials, is that there’s just a lot of excitement and interest right now, and not just in the mill, but in the community of Ozark overall,” Wlezien said.
Megan Morris said revitalization projects near the square in recent years include an antique store and a screen-printing shop called Hometown Sports. Currently, a former church on East Elm Street is being renovated into an event venue and restaurant called The Finley.
Like many of the renovations around the square, she said the owners of The Finley are preserving historical elements and enhancing with a modern twist. The Finley’s Facebook page teases on June 12 to “stay tuned” for details but notes the space will have a speakeasy bar in the basement.
Rick Gardner, the mayor of Ozark and a real estate agent with Keller Williams, said he is rehabbing a 2,000-square-foot former dentistry near the square into office space.
“If you can imagine what a dentist office from 1965 looks like – dated is an understatement,” he said, noting he’s maintaining the old charm but updating the amenities.
Gardner said demand has increased for office space, especially for lawyers, since the Christian County justice center broke ground on expansion late last year.
Those involved in renovations say the foundation is there and it’s up to them to write the future.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm on how do we build on these great bones we have in Ozark,” Wlezien said.
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