Challenges abound as former Catawba River pump house transformed into fine dining restaurant

Colby Mosier, one of the partners in the Pump House Restaurant, on the one of the fifth-floor patios that overlooks the Catawba River.
Colby Mosier, one of the partners in the Pump House Restaurant, on the one of the fifth-floor patios that overlooks the Catawba River.

Lake Wylie neighbors Elliott Close and Colby Mosier knew there would be challenges in turning an industrial pump house on the Catawba River into a fine dining, tablecloth restaurant.

The plant once pumped about five million gallons of water daily from the river to the Celanese textile and chemical plant. The plant was designed to withstand a raging river with 20-inch-thick concrete walls and pumps sunk deep into the river’s banks.

When Close and Mosier inspected the building, it had stood vacant for years. Celanese ceased production in 2005 after 57 years of operations. The pump house’s broken windows, visible to motorists on the U.S. 21 bridge, were a signal of just how much industrial decay the region had suffered.

The inspection revealed a sound building, though. One engineer told the men, “You can’t put enough weight on this building to hurt it.”

Close and Mosier developed an ambitious plant to double the space of the building, using its massive foundation and walls to support steel beams. The beams allowed them to suspend or cantilever second, third and fourth floors. They also turned the roof into a fifth floor with unobstructed views of the Catawba River.

After two years of planning and construction, the Pump House Restaurant is closing in on an opening date. Close, Mosier and partner/restauranteur Jeff Conway had hoped to open in December.

They had fully booked the restaurant last month, but construction did not keep pace with their expectations. The new projected opening date is around Valentine’s Day – a date that also may be too ambitious. Workers are still completing basic construction on the building’s utilities.

Work on the floors and ceilings remains. Parts of the ceilings come from wood salvaged from an 1880s-era textile mill in Greenville. A mill in Chester prepared the wood for the restaurant use.

Then comes adding all the restaurant equipment and finally adding tables, tablecloths and settings.

When that’s done it’s time to bring in the food stuffs, fill a second-floor cooler with kegs of beer and stock a 14-foot-tall cabinet capable of handling 984 bottles of wine.

They plan to have about 2,000 bottles of wine on site.

The delays are because Close and Mosier won’t scrimp; they want it to be as perfect as possible. Even Mosier admits their effort “is not a sound financial thing.”

“The cost is out of sight, but it’s what we wanted to do,” Mosier said.

Perfection, however, is not the only reason for the delays. The project has taken longer than expected because they had to consider the possibility of a flooding river every step of the way.

Water, sewer and gas connections – even a grease trap collector – that would normally be at or below ground level have to be at least 12 feet in the air to meet flood plain regulations. It also means the shaft for the building’s new elevator has to be waterproof.

Adding to the challenge – and the cost – is that many of the project’s aspects had to meet food-safety ratings. A dumb waiter – an elevator – to move food from the kitchen to the dinning areas had to be food grade.

“Food grade tripled the cost,” Mosier said.

Searching for the right advice to solve these challenges added time and cost, Mosier said. The partners often turned to people with experience in coastal projects for solutions, he said.

The opening date can’t come soon enough, Mosier said. They are already getting about 20 calls a week about when they will open.

Mosier and Close are hoping the iconic nature of the building, Conway’s reputation and the location will draw patrons from the region, especially Charlotte.

A sign on the fifth floor should be visible to drivers on I-77, Mosier said.

The riverside location has already proven to be a boon for the Pump House’s neighbors, Bernard Ackerman and his accounting firm.

“It’s the right spot for clients; we’ve already seen an increase in business,” said Ackerman, also an investor in the Pump House Restaurant.

Ackerman moved into his riverside building in August and, like the Pump House, his fourth-floor office has incredible views of the river and its wildlife.

“We see an eagle here at least once a week,” Ackerman said.

Don Worthington: 803-329-4066, @rhherald_donw