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Tackett’s Mill Center: Setting the Stage for “Creative Placemaking”

Story By Emily Guerrero | Photos by Kathy Strauss, ImageWerks

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The rebranding that will soon transform the “lower level” of Tackett’s Mill Center, the colonial-style shopping center at the intersection of Minnieville and Old Bridge roads in Lake Ridge, into the “Lakeside” level, is more than marketing wordplay. Tackett’s Mill Chief Financial Officer Nancy Kyme said that planning includes a commitment to restore the “Gateway to Lake Ridge” to its former glory as a community hub. Art will be at the center of this revitalization.

With an artisan vision, the owner, whom Kyme said did not wish to be named, purchased the center in 1996 from Boston-based John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company (now John Hancock Financial Life Insurance Company, USA). Her vision for Tackett’s Mill can be traced to Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village in Sedona, Ariz., and Open Arts Fest in Boulder, Colo., visual art events with educational programming for the public, said Kyme. “About a year ago, she began voicing this vision to her personal advisors and her management team,” Kyme said, adding that the owner had waited until she thought the community would be ready to embrace this vision.

Tackett’s Mill recently applied for a grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of leading foundations, banks and federal agencies committed to accelerating the nationwide trend of “creative placemaking,” which uses art to revitalize neglected or underutilized areas. While the center did not win the grant, the project will continue as planned, Kyme said.

In fact, not receiving the grant could expand plans “because we will not be tied to the grant’s requirements or the direction of its design team,” she said. “We have a designated space, an architectural plan, adequate funding and our own artist community within Prince William to help us.”

With construction slated to start later this year, plans include transforming a 5,000 square-foot building on the Lakeside into an artisan center similar to Torpedo Factory Art Center® in Alexandria, Va., Kyme said. The space would accommodate about eight studios, a gallery and several classrooms. Live performances, public art projects and outdoor sculptures, as well as a variety of weekend programming and festivals, are also possible, Kyme added.

Kyme predicted that the center’s new focus on art will help raise property values and the quality of life throughout Lake Ridge. According to ArtPlace America (artplaceamerica.org), “Arts-related activity plays a key role in contributing to the kind of quality of place that attracts and retains talented people. … Flourishing places generate additional innovation and economic activity, which broadly benefits the entire community.”

Artist and photographer Kathy Strauss of Lake Ridge is an example of local talent that the transformed Tackett’s Mill could attract. She is considering opening a photography studio at the center. “It will take time, but the attractiveness and activity that art brings will draw visitors to Tackett’s Mill. I see galleries, public art, cafes, cabaret venues and small boutiques all coming to the center,” she said. “I have seen revitalizations like what is envisioned here happen in other areas of the country. The areas blossomed.”

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Kyme is involving artists such as Strauss, along with community groups, businesses and residents in visioning the evolution of Tackett’s Mill. “We can’t do this without the community’s support,” Kyme explained.

An informal survey in January on the Occoquan Lake Ridge Civic Association (OLRCA) Facebook page asked what area residents would like to see unfold at Tackett’s Mill. The consensus was towards creating a unique experience and sense of community. Independently owned restaurants and performance space for jazz and comedy topped the wish list, along with farm-to-table establishments, microbreweries and coffee bars. “People in our area want a center of community,” said OLRCA President Bryanna Altman, who lives in Lake Ridge.

Another Lake Ridge resident, Rudy Ray, said that he’d like the Lakeside to develop a feel that is sophisticated, yet quaint. “I’d like to listen to some very good jazz [and get] a good glass of wine,” he said.

All of these ideas have a place within the vision that Tackett Mills management has outlined. “We welcome all artistic and healthy lifestyle endeavors, from the culinary arts to the performance arts, and the businesses who support them, from acupuncture and art supplies to knitting and yoga,” Kyme said.

Several center tenants have already expressed support for the changes. “Right now … we are really off the beaten track. Having a more community-oriented, artsy environment will bring more traffic to Tackett’s Mill,” said Parker Chiudioni, owner of Circle Sewing Studios on the Lakeside. “After seven years, I still have people saying, ‘Wow, I had no idea you were here.’ We are not a drive-by. We are a destination.”

Chiudioni, who sews and quilts, also welcomes the proposed changes from an artist perspective. “Joining with artisans in a community stimulates everyone’s creativity,” she said.

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Another tenant supporting the vision is the Prince William Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to preserve, protect and enhance natural resources. Kyme said that Executive Director Kim Hosen shares the owner’s vision “of sculpture and murals among [the center’s] beautiful grounds, where artists can easily find inspiration from nature.”

“[Lakeside] is absolutely beautiful … with the bridge, ducks, water fountain,” concurred Chiudioni.

While transforming the art center will take time, Kyme said that changes are already underway. In May, Tackett’s Mill will launch a farmers market on Fridays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. near The Old Mill at the Lakeside. The timing is meant to be convenient to commuters as they end their week, and the location will reintroduce the community to the Lakeside area, she said.

Also, in June, Tackett’s Mill will host a celebration for Prince William’s first Poet Laureate. “We are currently underwriting the Prince William Arts Council’s Laureate program by funding the Writer-Poet Laureate phase which has kicked off and is accepting applicants,” said Kyme.

Later this year noted D.C. artist Nelson Gutierrez also will be opening a studio at the center. His work, recently on exhibit at the District of Columbia Arts Center, has been seen all over the world.

Meanwhile, Kyme encouraged community members to “join us in making Eastern Prince William more than just a place to sleep between workdays. Dare to dream with us.”

For more information on Tackett’s Mill and its journey into becoming “a place of art,” visit facebook.com/TackettsMill.

Emily Guerrero is editor in chief of Prince William Living and owns Mightier Than, a communications and freelance writing firm based in Lake Ridge. She can be reached at [email protected] 

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