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Eagle Point donates $100,000 to Butte Creek Mill rebuild

EAGLE POINT — The city will contribute $100,000 toward a $2.5 million rebuild of the historic Butte Creek Mill, a significant tourism draw that burned on Christmas Day 2015.

The City Council approved the contribution Tuesday after initially delaying a decision until it could perform due diligence, members said. With former mill owner Bob Russell at the council helm as mayor, councilors wanted to first assure citizens that Russell had sold the mill to the Butte Creek Mill Foundation.

Russell sold the mill and surrounding properties to the new nonprofit for $135,000 in 2016. Once it is rebuilt, the mill will be run by the foundation and will return proceeds to the community in the form of grants and scholarships.

Russell recused himself during recent discussions of the donation. After extended deliberation and meetings by a subcommittee of council members, the council voted to donate $80,000 plus $20,000 in credit toward building fees, with unused credits convertible to cash after reconstruction is complete.

“One of the council’s concerns was to get the word out that our mayor didn’t own the mill anymore,” Councilor Kathy Sell said. “We didn’t want the public to think we were giving the money to the mayor. It’s a big donation for a community of our size, and we wanted to do our due diligence as elected officials.

“We had concerns that when that mill was completed that the money wouldn’t go into a black hole and that the mill would still be available for our District 9 (school district) students to tour, and that events could be held there. The mill is going to become a part of the community again. We just owe it to our public, to the people whose money it is, to be responsible as elected officials.”

Councilor Ruth Jenks, who worked as part of a subcommittee with Sell to research and consider the donation, said she was excited to see the council support the mill project.

“It was a unique request, so between gathering information that we needed and deliberating, it took us a little bit to get there, but we are very excited to help them with this donation,” Jenks said.

“In Eagle Point we have a history of the community coming together. Our motto is, ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood.’ If we can’t help each other, what’s it all mean?”

Butte Creek Mill Foundation Executive Director Maryanne Pitcher said the foundation also would seek support from Jackson County commissioners given the mill’s local and regional tourism appeal.

“We are very happy with the council decision and we look forward to continuing the project. I think the message we want to get out is that now that the city of Eagle Point has said, in a real way, ‘We support this,’ it sends a message to funders both in and outside the area that this is a worthwhile project and it is really going to happen,” said Pitcher.

“I think it’s going to leverage a lot of other donations.”

Fundraising as of last week had tipped just past $1.2 million, thanks to donations sent from around the globe, including $100,000 from Bob’s Red Mill, fundraising concerts by Jim Belushi’s band and support from actor Patrick Duffy.

On the construction front, timber beams are being hand-hewn outside Russell’s house near the site of the burned-out mill, and plans are underway to begin frame construction within a few weeks.

Russell said he was pleased with the council for ensuring the donation request was handled properly.

Russell said the council approved the donation 5 to 1. Councilor Bill Fierke, unavailable Thursday for comment, cast the lone no vote.

Sell said the community was relieved and grateful the restoration was underway.

“We all were standing there looking at it after the fire, sifting through it was absolutely heart-wrenching. Everyone you talk to both in and out of Eagle Point, if you ask what Eagle Point means, it’s the mill,” Sell said.

“Our hope is the new mill is going to be as iconic as the old mill. I think they’re trying really hard to make that happen. It means a lot to a lot of people inside and outside of our valley.”

Online: https://buttecreekmill.com/foundation/

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point in its current state under rebuild Friday morning.