A New Purpose
Developer Bateman finds dream job
in retirement in Madison, Ind.
He is teaming with two former partners, Indy hotel chain
(March 2019) – When Ron and Marlene Bateman in 2015 decided to retire to Madison, Ind., little did they know that Ron would soon become involved in what many locals are calling the most significant historic restoration project in the city’s National Historic Landmark District – the renovation of the Eagle Cotton Mill.
The four-story, 104,000-square-foot building is considered the largest in the downtown. The massive riverfront property has sat empty since the 1980s, waiting for the right person or persons to come along with the will and the means to revive it. After the couple finally settled in Madison in September 2017, Ron began hearing many people talk about the potential impact that such a project would have on the town. His long career working in construction and architecture – mostly in residential projects – beckoned him.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Forrester
The former Eagle Cotton Mill in Madison, Ind., has sat empty since the 1980s, but its recent sale to a developer will give it new life as a hotel and conference center.
Bateman couldn’t resist. He finally called his two former construction company partners back in Anchorage, Alaska, and together they began working with city and state officials to find a way to finance such an enormous undertaking. The three business partners formed a new company, Riverton LLC, to tackle the project.
“I started working on this project 14 months ago,” said Bateman, 69.
Madison was one of two cities to receive a Stellar Designation in 2017 from the multi-agency state economic development and community improvement program. By soliciting donations from local companies and individuals to match state funds, the city stands to receive up to $6 million in community investment through Stellar.
Although the Cotton Mill project is not directly receiving Stellar funds, it is considered a Stellar complementary project. Instead, the project is slated to receive $4.75 million in conditional tax credits from the IEDC from the Industrial Recovery Tax Credit (DINO) program, which provides an incentive to invest in former industrial sites and improve quality of place in Indiana communities. This is the first DINO project in Madison and the oldest building to be redeveloped under the program.
The building, erected in 1884, is 135 years old and initially served as a twine and fabric factory that shipped goods along the Ohio River until closing in 1937. The building was later purchased by Madison-based Meese Inc., which occupied the property until the early 1980s, but it has since remained vacant.
The building has had three previous owners whose intentions to rehabilitate it were never realized.
The hotel project by Riverton LLC and its financial partners also is expected to receive TIF funding from the city, in kind nonmonetary help from the city of Madison, as well as qualify for federal credits from the National Park Service because of the building’s status as a historic site.
So in 2017, Bateman began reaching out to Bob Przewlocki, the Chicago area preservationist who with his brother owned the Cotton Mill at the time. As the sale price was being negotiated, Bateman and his partners teamed up with Dora Hospitality, a Marriott brand chain of hotels based in Indianapolis. They agreed to a joint venture to convert the property into an 85-room Marriott branded Fairfield Inn, complete with a bar, conference rooms and breakfast room for hotel guests. No restaurant is planned initially, but catering will be needed for the conferences, he said.
Bateman, meanwhile, continues to work on rehabbing the historic home where he and Marlene will eventually live. “I love this town; I plan to live here until I die,” he said.
Bateman’s group is scheduled to close on the property in June. Construction on the $21 million project is scheduled to begin soon afterward in June with completion targeted for summer 2020, Bateman said. Cleanup of the property began in late February to allow architects and surveyors in to prepare the site for development.
“There are many things we can do with the property down the road. But the first thing we need to do is to get the hotel up and running,” Bateman said. “The shell and basic structure are in remarkably good shape. And the foundation was well done the first time around. We still haven’t decided what to do with the smaller buildings out back.”
The six-acre property includes frontage all the way down to the Ohio River, so a boat dock or some other riverside amenity could be added later on, he said.
The project was announced to the public in January by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. The news made the rounds through local media as well as on TV stations in Louisville and Indianapolis. Facebook lit up with comments and praise by many Madison area residents and local city officials.
Not surprisingly, Bate-man has personally received much reaction.
“I have received numerous thank you letters from people I don’t even know,” he said. “Some people I have talked to were tearful they were so happy. There were also some who are skeptical because there have been so many false starts on this property. I can understand. It’s a massive project that requires some complicated financing and some financial assistance because there’s no way this property, with the condition it’s in, could ever turn a profit otherwise. It’s in too bad of shape, it’s too big and too far gone and will cost a lot of money to save it. A developer would not begin to support that much debt on his own.”
Bateman explained that it took the talents of his former partners, John McGrew, 64, and Glenn Gellert, 51, to construct the financing model and the help of local and state tax abatements to make the project possible. He wanted to make clear to the public that he was not a wealthy developer who was financing the project alone. “I’m not a rich man; I’m just a man who likes to build things.”
So who is Ron Bateman?
Bateman grew up in Frankfort, Ind.; his wife was raised in Wisconsin and in Ripley County, Ind., just north of Madison. Both of their fathers were ministers. The couple met while attending Indiana Wesleyan College (formerly Marion). Bateman studied religion but decided not to attend seminary. Marlene, born in Hartford City, Ind., studied music – voice in particular.
Her father took a ministerial position in Anchorage, Alaska. After vacationing there, Ron said they fell in love with Alaska and, after marrying in 1975, moved there in 1979. Ron took various jobs in construction, carpentry and steel fabrication.
In 1985, the couple moved to Austin, Texas, where they enrolled at the University of Texas. Marlene earned a doctorate in music, while Ron earned a master’s degree in architecture. In 1993, the couple moved back to Anchorage, where Ron continued to work as an architect and developer of residential and public building projects, such as schools and museums all around the state. The couple never had children.
“I finally went out on my own and started my own company and wanted to do housing,” Bateman said. He eventually formed a three-way partnership with McGrew and Gellert, and together the company built housing communities for 15 years.
“It wore me out,” Bateman joked.
In 2015, the couple began planning for retirement. They wanted to return to Indiana, and Ron recalled how much he like Madison during earlier trips there. “It was finally my turn to live near my family, and I wanted to come to southern Indiana. Plus I love being by the river, and we enjoy doing outdoors activities.”
After moving to Madison, the couple purchased a historic home on Plum Street in downtown Madison that Bateman is renovating for Marlene and him to reside. He also began hearing from residents about their dreams for the Cotton Mill to be revived. “At first, I didn’t think too much about it. I thought it would be a good housing project. But the real key to it was understanding the financial side of it,” he said.
After meeting with city officials, it became clear to Bateman that they wanted to see a hotel and conference center and not a housing project. We started working on it, and here we are. It was a project that wouldn’t die. We consider it to be a public amenity that will help the city, and especially because it’s a historic property.”
McGrew said he and Gellert have enjoyed their trips to Madison, and that everyone involved has been “so helpful, and we are very excited to be a part of it. We have worked with Ron for a long time, and his heart is really into this project. He has been talking about this building for quite a while and said it would be ashamed to let it continue to fall into disrepair. So we jumped right in.”
Bateman credited several people at Madison City Hall for help in constructing the financing package: Mayor Damon Welch, Purchasing Manager Bob Cooke, Community Relations Manager Andrew Forrester and Preservation Coordinator/City Planner Nicole Schell. He also credited Tony Steinhardt of Ratio Architects in Indianapolis
“Everyone has been great, and the mayor has been very supportive,” Bateman said.
Forrester, who played a key role in the Stellar Designation application process, said of Bateman, “From the second Ron walked in, he has been serious about making this project happen. He has a great vision and his calm but determined temperament has brought this project forward.”
Schell said, “I first met Ron and Marlene over the phone when they first started looking into moving to Madison and were looking for a historic home to buy. They are both very down to earth people who I think really fit in well as residents here. And his two partners from Alaska are a nice fit in this development because he is more the designer and builder, and they are more into the finance end of it.”
McGrew said it is apparent that Bateman has fallen in love with Madison. “He often compares it to a Norman Rockwell painting,” McGrew said. “So he is really committed to this project and to help the town.”
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