From warehouse to gathering place: A builder’s vision for Old Town’s future

See how Alexandria-based builder Murray Bonitt plans to transform a historic Old Town waterfront warehouse into a haven for the local community.

Rendering courtesy of Bonitt Builders

The art of preservation is a challenging skill to grasp, and with modern developments popping up all over the Northern Virginia region, it has become a rarity. Yet somehow, award-winning developer Murray Bonitt, who has been in the industry for about 35 years with his company Bonitt Builders, doesn’t get tired of restoring fractured pieces of history and giving them a purpose again.

In late May, Bonitt announced his plans to transform and preserve one of Alexandria’s last remaining waterfront warehouses, located at 10 Duke Street in Old Town, into a grocery market and kitchen for the surrounding community to enjoy. The establishment will go by the name The Mill, as a nod to its previous life and its goal of being a gathering place.

The building was once used as a mess house by the Union Army in 1864, where soldiers could return for food, support and, most importantly, comfort. In October 2020, the warehouse will serve a similar purpose, yet with less men in uniform and more hungry guests who can stop by the downstairs level for a quick bite to eat or head upstairs to relax by the open kitchen in the sofa lounge.

As for the impact the warehouse will have on the community, Bonitt expects it will be well received.

“When a building is made from scratch, you can’t replicate the feel of looking at 200-year-old items that have stood the test of time,” Bonitt explains. “People are appreciative of repurposing materials. It takes some extra work, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it, bringing those pieces back to life.”

Rendering courtesy of Bonitt Builders

The entirety of the structure will be repurposed and restored, according to Bonitt. The brick and roof tresses removed for construction will be placed back in the walls, and any  beam taken out during the process will be reused for tables, flooring or accent walls.

Bonitt is also keen on the fact that The Mill will be built with local residents in mind. He has plans to survey the residents of the Southeast quadrant of Old Town to see exactly what type of goods they’d like in the market, and he also has an extensive process for choosing which restaurant will be providing the cuisine. While the concept is still being developed, he envisions a vibe of Southern comfort food that will bring friends, neighbors and family together on a regular basis.

As a result of his various years within the culinary industry, Bonitt has adopted a Triple-A approach to hospitality—affordable, approachable and amazing—that will utilize when transforming the warehouse.

“I’ve learned that when people walk in the door, they become the celebrity in the restaurant,” says Bonitt. “You want to make it so that it’s a reasonable cost, approachable so nobody’s intimidated by things on the menu. Yet also a vibe that’s awesome, where they are pointing out unique things on the walls or anywhere else. A place needs it all.”

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