It will be called Finley Farms and will cost millions of dollars to develop.
Exactly how much money it will cost to build and how much money the redevelopment of the Ozark Mill location will bring into Ozark remains to be seen.
Megan Morris, daughter of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, shared the vision of the Ozark Mill project with reporters at a press conference Aug. 1, in a building that once housed Wheeler Gardens. The development plan calls for a restaurant, a speakeasy-style bar, agricultural farm development, river access and nature trails and a multi-purpose building that can house educational classes and seminars.
“Like Dogwood Canyon, Top of the Rock and Big Cedar, it’s going to connect people to nature and really offer genuine Ozarks hospitality,” Megan Morris said.
The development will celebrate the town of Ozark, Morris said, in a way that helps visitors create memories.
“The history of this property and the mill itself is really incredible and has inspired our entire team to preserve as much of the history as we can,” Morris said.
The mill has been in Ozark since the town was settled in the 1830s. It became known as Hoover’s Mill. Bass Pro Shops developers are working to preserve as much of the history as they can as the building is revitalized.
“We have been working diligently with a team of incredible craftsmen to preserve every piece of material that we possibly can and return this structure to its former glory,” Morris said.
Morris shared a photograph of her great-grandfather with a large catfish he had caught by hand, a practice known as noodling, in 1902.
“That great-grandfather of mine was a miller in the town of Willard, so there is milling history in the Morris family. “The town of Ozark is really special to our family. My grandparents lived on Fourth Street just here by the mill in the early 40s, and my family lived here for a few years.”
In a video released Aug. 1, Johnny Morris described the effort behind saving the Ozark Mill.
“It’s an engineering feat and a physical, hard work feat. All these craftsmen that are part of this—I hope they have a lot of pride in what they’re doing and what they’re helping preserve,” Morris said. “It had to be moved, but it wasn’t easy to do, that makes it more special in the long run. It’s worth every effort to try to save it and maintain it.”
The Ozark Mill is one of Ozark’s most significant landmarks, if not the most iconic, according to Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers.
“You have to understand what the mill means to Ozark. I mean, it’s in our logo, it’s in every picture that you see, it’s in every painting that anyone ever does of the river,” Childers said.
Childers was hired as Ozark’s first ever city planner 15 years ago. The Morris family has owned the mill for about 25 years now. The unveiling of the project is the stuff of dreams for Childers and many other Ozark stakeholders.
“It’s just been dream in this community for such a long time that something happen, and to see the vision that the Morris family is putting in place for Finley Farms is really surpassing anything that we could have dreamed up,” Childers said.
Best environmental practices
The Finley River runs through the heart of the land the Morris family aims to develop into an Ozarks tourist destination.
“We care so much about these rivers, and we want to make sure that we aren’t adding to any flooding issues or any environmental issues that might be going on,” Megan Morris said.
The existing Ozark Mill structure has been shifted and will eventually come to rest on a new foundation. The foundation sits in a flood plain. The new foundation is built to withstand floodwaters and any damaging debris that could come downstream.
Bass Pro Shops developers are working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the city of Ozark to make sure the building and its surrounding agricultural plots and orchards use the “best practices” to protect the environment.
Nature is key to the design of Finley Farms, like most of Bass Pro’s tourism developments in other communities. While the Ozark Mill will be the main building, a system of nature trails will connect the mill to other places of interest on the property.
“We will have connections to all the different components on site through trails,” Morris said.
The developers hope the trail system can expand out into Ozark’s existing downtown trails and beyond.
“We hope to connect to the Finley River Park, the historic downtown square for all the local businesses there, and eventually one day hopefully connect to the city of Springfield,” Morris said.
Dining downtown in the old mill
“The main event at the mill will be a restaurant called the Riverside Grill, and this is paying homage to the Riverside Inn, which was a local establishment that sold fried chicken—and really a gathering place for this community since the 1920s,” Morris said.
Bass Pro Shops also plans to offer tours through the mill, giving guests a close-up view of the milling equipment and look back into the history of Christian County. A museum at the end of the tour will have a hidden entrance to a speakeasy called the Garrison, a tribute to Riverside Inn proprietor Howard Garrison.
“We’re just going to play up the traditions of the characters of the Ozarks in this space with finer dishes and craft cocktails, and it’s going to be more on intimate setting with candlelight and quite a different ambiance,” Morris said.
What’s happening with Wheeler Gardens
The building that once housed Wheeler Gardens was previously a Missouri Department of Transportation garage, where work trucks were kept.
“The intent for this Wheeler building in the future is that we really re-imagine this space and turn it into a flexible maker’s space. We want to be able to host hands-on learning experiences here like workshops,” Morris said. “It could be floral arranging, weaving, welding, cooking, all sorts of different learning experiences will be on the menu for this event space.”
Morris showed drawings of farmers growing produce, raising chickens, honeybees, goats and other animals, and using the Wheeler Gardens building as a place to showcase what has been raised on the farm.
In the video, Johnny Morris said he wants to see the Ozark Mill restored to the economic community driver it was more than a century ago, “a catalyst for economic activity and fun times for people, too.”
Prior development announcements
In July, Bass Pro Shops announced plans for a new ice cream and coffee shop inspired by the Ozark area’s rich history. The shop, called “The Post,” will sit to the north of the intersection of West Jackson Street and Third Street, to the south of the Finley River Park and Finley River Bridge.
The shop will be modeled after a small post office that occupied space within the original 1800s-era mill, which was located along a delivery corridor called the Ozark Trace Route.
The Post is anticipated to open in 2019 as the first phase of the Ozark Mill site development.
Bass Pro Shops also announced plans to relocate the historic Riverside Bridge from its current location to the Ozark Mill site.
Originally built in 1909, the Riverside Bridge was initially located next to the Ozark Mill. Craftsmen later determined the bridge wasn’t wide enough to properly serve its location and it was moved to its current site approximately a mile and a half away, a press release said.
The bridge has been closed since July 2015, when it was deemed unusable after flood waters and debris damaged the structure. When federal and state transportation officials called to destroy the bridge, Ozark residents teamed up and fought back through a nonprofit initiative.
The bridge is expected to be moved to its new location—where the infamous “Chadwick Flyer” railroad once crossed the Finley—by the end of the year. It will be installed following a review with the Army Corps of Engineers, according to the release. Bass Pro’s vision calls for a variety of amenities, including historical tours, dining, event space and enhanced riverfront access.