Vicksburg native selected to head The Mill at Vicksburg design team

As a kid she enjoyed tennis on the Vicksburg courts, learning to water ski on Indian Lake and chocolate malts on Main Street.

Now after 20 years of designing luxury, multi-family, residential community projects across the United States, Middle East and Asia, Rebecca Luong is back home in Vicksburg, this time as director of design for the $80 million Mill at Vicksburg project

“I’m thrilled to return to Vicksburg both personally and professionally and share the vIllage of today—and the future—with my family,” Luong says.

From paper to… more

When Luong was growing up, the 420,000-square-foot former Lee Paper Company paper mill employed 250 workers and was the largest employer in Vicksburg. 

Over time, the mill, which opened in 1905, shifted from producing paper made from old clothes and rags to using wood pulp and changed owners several times as well.

The paper mill shut down in March 2001, but unlike other defunct Kalamazoo-area paper companies, many of its buildings remain and the site has been nominated to the National Registry of Historic Places. 

The current multi-use development plan that got a unanimous stamp of approval by the Vicksburg Village Council in 2018 keeps the original U-shaped buildings that formed the basis of the mill and uses an adjacent 80 acres to the west as well.

The plan calls for converting the site into a 120-acre campus that will be a multi-venue destination. It will feature Old  Stove Brewing; indoor and outdoor concert venues; a boutique hotel; restaurants, taprooms, and a distillery; spaces for conferences, conventions, and private events; the Cone Top Brewery Museum; outdoor community spaces, bike trails, and a river walk; art and student programming; and more.

Now Luong will serve as the liaison between the ownership and consultant teams, ensuring owner Chris Moore’s vision of creating a world-class destination is brought to life. (Moore recently purchased MacKenzie’s Bakery, and its reopening in downtown Vicksburg is part of the vision as well.) 

Luong has a wealth of experience to draw on as she helps shape that vision. Her years in planning, architecture, and interior design for experience-focused hospitality destinations include projects ranging from the 61-room Bardessono Hotel in Napa, Cal.—rated one of the top 10 luxury boutique hotels in the world—to a development of seven human-made islands off the coast of Dubai.

Rebecca Luong is the new director of design for the $80 million Mill at Vicksburg project. Luong most recently served as hospitality practice area leader for Gensler in Seattle—a global architecture, design and planning firm with 49 locations and a network of more than 6,000 professionals across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and America. 
“I moved to Seattle in 2001 and enjoyed the Pacific Northwest for a decade,” she says. “Warmer climates beckoned, and I moved to Hawaii and then Southern California before returning to Seattle in 2018.”
Relocating back to Seattle afforded her the opportunity to get acquainted with Old Stove Brewing, also owned by Chris Moore. “It was there that I started to learn more about Chris’ efforts at The Mill at Vicksburg,” she says. “That’s where the stars began to align!”

Home again, home again

Her husband and children visited family in Vicksburg in the summer of 2020 and saw first-hand the impact the Mill project was already having in the community, Luong recalls.

“As Gensler had pivoted to remote work at the onset of the pandemic, and in discussions with Chris Moore and Jackie Koney, we found a pairing with my ability to span both Seattle and Vicksburg virtually while lending expertise through Gensler to the project team,” she says. “As our relationship blossomed, and the vision for The Mill continued to develop, we found that a more dedicated, local position on the team would create the most impact and momentum for implementation of our programming.”
Luong says she is excited to use her new role as a way to blend her experience, local roots, and passion for the future of Vicksburg to create a world-class destination.

“As someone who pursued a career in architecture where we work on cool projects all the time, it’s a daydream to be working here alongside The Mill team,” Luong says. “This ability to be a part of the vision and transformation is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chapter for me, and for my family.” 

Jackie Koney, Chief Operating Officer of Paper City Development, shares that enthusiasm.  

Rebecca Luong is back home in Vicksburg, where she grew up, and is the new director of design for the $80 million Mill at Vicksburg project. “We didn’t have to give Rebecca ‘The Mill 101’ story, as she was very familiar with its history and has followed every step that Chris has taken to transform the property,” Koney says. “Rebecca will ensure that everyone on the team is capturing the story of the site and its aspirations by using her unique lens. With Rebecca leading the design effort, we know that The Mill at Vicksburg and its associated brands will offer a cohesive, authentic, and elevated guest experience.” 

Luong’s academic background includes a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Ball State University and a Masters’ Degrees in International Development from the University of Washington. 

She is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional and a member of the Network of Executive Women in Hospitality (NEWH), having most recently served on the NEWH Northwest Board in Seattle.

The project to date

The groundwork is being laid for development to begin in earnest

In 2018, the Prairie Ronde Artist Residency program brought artists from around the world to the mill site to create works that reflected their experience.

Selected artists came to Vicksburg, stayed in a private apartment that includes a studio space, and explored the abandoned mill site, mining it for ideas. That program continues to this day and so far more than 50 artists have created work at the mill site.

Construction updates began in 2019 with the removal of asbestos, interior walls, and debris; roofings is nearly complete--some roofing has been repaired and/or replaced, and the goal is to recycle and re-use materials in other construction projects on-site, sharing materials with other businesses or properly disposing of unused materials. Non-historically significant buildings have all been removed, with some having been donated.  All debris from these building removals were ground into small chunks that will be used as underlayment on property sidewalks and driveways

An artists rendering of a piece of the Mill at Vicksburg project.Going forward, exterior walls stabilized with new masonry are close to completion. The East Wing, Old Stove Taproom, and Cone Top Brewery Museum dedicated to the history of American brewing are expected to open in 2026.

What’s next

“I will be working on everything from the boutique hotel to the social and event spaces, museums, taprooms, and future brands,” Luong says. “Each of these spaces has a rich historic architectural backdrop. I hope to reshape these into contemporary, design-forward spaces while maintaining their history to create a truly one-of-a-kind campus for guests to experience.”

Now, more than ever, she says, people crave an authenticity of place while also seeking genuine experiences. While there may be a draw to new construction and innovative design not yet envisioned, there is far greater power in transforming spaces that bear the stories of the past and the possibility of the future. 

“The Mill has more than 100 years of history and is in the tremendous process of being reimagined for the next 200 years. The Mill was designed very pragmatically to accommodate an efficiency of production and has such incredible potential to function in very different ways—from hotel and conference spaces to maker and museum spaces,” Luong says. “This transformation allows for the bricks to tell stories to new generations, and the historic construction methods to speak as artwork. This will become backdrops to life events as weddings are hosted at The Mill, for example. 

“These ingredients of the design mix for these spaces, can in no way be emulated with such impact and importance to our community in new construction – in the ways that they will come alive in this re-engagement of The Mill.”

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Read more articles by Rosemary Parker.

Rosemary Parker has worked as a writer and editor for more than 40 years, most of that time in Southwest Michigan.