Wylie Saulsbury was on a motorcycle ride to Lawrence when he missed his turn and came across a century-old mill with brickwork that stunned him.
“When I came around the corner, I just stopped my bike. I mean, they thought I had a problem or an issue because I pulled over and literally was just like, ‘Wow,’ ” Saulsbury said.
Saulsbury, who works in masonry and has experience in construction, was impressed by the brickwork on the mill, which he said hasn't had an active tenant since the 1980s.
Now, Saulsbury and partners Erik Radzins and Meagan Dorton-Allison are redeveloping the long-abandoned Bonner Springs mill into a car club and lounge with hopes for a microbrewery, restaurant and event space. They're hoping to open the first phase — a car storage and work space and member lounge — in June.
"It’s growing organically," Saulsbury said.
The group is self-funding the development but may seek some help from Wyandotte County or Bonner Springs. They hope to convert the old mill from nuisance to a community hangout spot.
“Kind of like a coffee shop — everybody likes to go to a coffee shop because it usually has that warm, cool, fun vibe," Saulsbury said. "That’s what we’re after. We want a family place that’s safe and can cater to families."
Radzins said he wanted "a co-op environment where even on a rainy day people can be in here working and chatting and hanging out.”
Before the old mill could begin to resemble their vision, it needed a lot of work. Saulsbury said the basements in the complex had between 8 and 12 feet of water because of a faulty roof that had to be replaced. The partners removed trees and brush surrounding the buildings and cleared out trash themselves.
“We probably went through two dozen dumpsters — full-size dumpsters — of just leftover wood and clothing and just all kinds of stuff that didn’t need to be in here," Saulsbury said.
So far, they've replaced electrical wiring that had been stripped from the building and worked on getting phase one open. The member lounge is mostly built.
They're working to divide the building into bays for owners to store cars and work on them. Bays will soon be sectioned off by glass walls so fellow patrons can enjoy what Radzins calls "rolling art."
Saulsbury said the group hopes to attract car shows.
Next, they want to add a microbrewery and restaurant and event space.
“We’re hopeful that once word travels and goes all over Kansas City, I think we’ll have a big crowd, a big following," Saulsbury said. "We want people from Johnson County to the Northland. We just want a really cool vibe, a really cool place for people to come hang out.”