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Walkabout places focus on downtown

Madison Mathews • Oct 25, 2012 at 10:42 PM

The entrepreneurial spirit that helped build Johnson City was celebrated Thursday as more than 100 people were led through the downtown area, learning about the city’s vibrant past and its bright future.

The Economic Summit’s Business Development Focus Group led a downtown walkabout, stopping at several downtown businesses, before winding up at the historic CC&O Railroad Depot for the main event: an update on downtown revitalization efforts and the Tupelo Honey Cafe project.

After visiting Nelson Fine Art, Spark Plaza and One12 Downtown, the participants filed into the depot for Tupelo Honey pie courtesy of Chef Brian Sonoskus.

Washington County Economic Development Council Director of Redevelopment Shannon Castillo gave a brief update on the new businesses and developments that have sprung up over the last year, including the city’s flood mitigation efforts and the future of Tupelo Honey’s arrival in downtown Johnson City.

“I want you to know what I am learning about Tupelo Honey is they are not just a restaurant. They’re not just coming in, setting up shop and serving you food. They really want to be a part of our community and they really want to give back and be partnered with the community. We are going to benefit from that,” Castillo said.

Asheville, N.C.-based Tupelo Honey Cafe announced in July its intention to open its fourth location at the former CC&O Railroad Depot by fall 2013.

Tupelo operates two locations in Asheville, N.C., in addition to a newly opened location in downtown Knoxville.

Since the announcement, the excitement surrounding the popular restaurant has been the talk of downtown and has even helped spur interest in the downtown area.

Elizabeth Sims, director of marketing for Tupelo Honey, said the level of excitement and anticipation from Tri-Cities fans is fueling their excitement with the project, which will see them rehabilitate the historic depot as they design their new restaurant.

“It’s just a wonderfully humbling and surprising process that people are so warm and welcoming and excited about us coming. What’s not to love about that?” she said.

Sims spoke about Tupelo Honey’s mission of becoming a community partner in every city they’re in and their love of preserving historic buildings.

The project’s developers are already in the midst of pursuing a tax credit through the Investment Tax Credit Program, and Sims said they are thrilled to be helping in the process of rehabilitating the long-vacant building.

“One of the most important parts of that process is that we get to play a role, albeit a small one, in recharging the downtown,” she said.

With all of the projects that are under way in downtown Johnson City, Sims said they hope to be a contributing part to the revitalization efforts.

“We’re just happy to be here. We’re at the right place at the right time, I think,” she said.

Greg Cox, co-developer of the depot project, said plans and designs are still being finalized, and people should start to see work being done on the building itself within the next four to five weeks.

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