As John Montgomery walks around the Drayton Mills community, he can’t help but feel his family’s connection to the area.
Montgomery, CEO of Montgomery Development Group, has been a driving force behind the ongoing redevelopment effort around the old Drayton Mill on the east side of Spartanburg. The former mill itself is now home to Drayton Mills Loft Apartments, and an old warehouse and event space is currently being transformed into areas that can house businesses in the future.
The original mill buildings at the site were constructed in 1902 by Montgomery’s great-great grandfather, John H. Montgomery, who founded Drayton Mills.
“He was the reason why my family got in the textile business back in the 1880s and the reason the Millikens are in the textile business,” he said. “He and the Millikens and other people put up the money to start this mill, which was one of the first mills.”
Montgomery has been closely involved with the redevelopment initiative since it began. In 2009, he was hired by Pacolet Milliken Enterprises and put in charge of the real estate the company inherited from Roger Milliken.
“This has been a labor of love. I’m eighth-generation Spartanburg County, so I have a lot of pride,” he said. “It’s certainly cool to be part of a project my family built originally.”
Montgomery was born and raised in Spartanburg. He left the area to attend boarding school and graduated from the University of the South in Tennessee.
After school, he took a job with Carolina First Bank in Greenville before moving to Columbia and eventually back to Spartanburg.
Montgomery said he wanted to pursue a real estate career after spending time in the banking industry. He left Spartanburg to get his master’s degree in real estate development at Columbia University in New York before coming back to the area.
“I’m a builder, I’m a doer, so I wanted to transition into a new career,” he said.
During his time at Pacolet Milliken, Montgomery developed the blueprint being used to redevelop the Drayton community.
“These were all just forgotten items in the Milliken world. Mr. Milliken realized Milliken owned a tremendous amount of land they weren’t developing,” he said. “I’m really happy to have played a part in saving this mill from demolition. There’s only a handful left.”
So, Montgomery started work to turn the Drayton community effort into a residential and economic development.
He worked on the project for years, but the work really picked up when Montgomery left Pacolet Milliken.
Soon after the company left Spartanburg to move its headquarters to downtown Greenville, Montgomery started Montgomery Development Group. One of the company’s first moves was to get involved with the effort in Drayton.
“My home is here and I always want to have some sort of involvement with projects here,” he said. “The majority of the growth in the U.S. will happen in the Southeast over the next 20 years. There are going to be a lot of opportunities coming here in the future.”
The Drayton Mills Loft Apartments were developed by Tara Sherbert, managing principal of Sherbert Consulting and TMS Development in partnership with Pacolet Milliken.
The Drayton Marketplace is being developed by Montgomery Development.
“What I want to do, in working with Pacolet Milliken, is to create an attractive, vibrant community here in town,” he said. ‘It’s something we can use to bring people closer to our city. There’s been a tremendous amount of sprawl over the last 20 years, out to the Boiling Springs area and out to the west side.”
The residential space coming to Drayton will be a high-density, urban, walkable, modern community, Montgomery said.
Along with residential growth, the area will be home to office space to keep the community vibrant during the day, Montgomery said.
Pacolet Milliken also donated about 16 acres of land to Spartanburg School District 7. The district is building its new, $36 million elementary school in the Drayton community. When it opens in 2018, the school will replace both Chapman and Houston elementary schools.
The new school could be a huge push for more residential growth.
“We really hope that will be an impetus for more residential growth,” Montgomery said. “A new house hasn’t been built in this mill village in probably 40 years.”
Along with his work at Drayton, Montgomery has been involved in other community-based organizations, and in 2015 was elected chairman of the Commission of Public Works for the city of Spartanburg.
Montgomery said it’s a great time in Spartanburg, as a group of leaders has emerged, carefully planning for the future of the city and the county.
Montgomery said he can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for his hometown.
“It has not been an easy path, but one I’m certainly going to enjoy looking back on,” he said. “It has gone by fast, but we’ve got a long way to go. The Drayton Mills Apartments and the Drayton Marketplace are the first steps in a years-long process, as I see it, to enhance and develop the quality of life in this part of town.”