Demolition plans revealed for Elizabethton rayon buildings

John Thompson • Feb 13, 2013 at 9:32 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Spring will not only bring its traditional new life to Elizabethton, but also the start of demolition of some dead buildings that have long dominated the western approach to the city.

Elizabethton Planning Director Jon Hartman announced Wednesday that M & R Acquisitions of Birmingham, Ala., acquired the North American Rayon power plant building and the polyester building (third unit) at the end of January.

An Internet search for the company reveals it has purchased other dormant large textile factories in the past year.

The company has plans to salvage and demolish the buildings, Hartman said, preparing the land for potential future development. Hartman said the two large buildings will be demolished by the end of the year.

“We are very excited to see these dilapidated buildings come down,” Hartman said. “This will really open up a lot of this old industrial land for development. ... The demolition of these buildings will enhance the gateway to the proposed TIF (tax increment financing) redevelopment district and the city of Elizabethton.”

Much of the original North American property has already been redeveloped, especially the strip along West Elk Avenue where several restaurants and commercial buildings have been built and deeper into the property, where Walmart and Lowe’s have built large retail stores.

North American was one of two rayon factories built side by side by German textile manufacturers in the 1920s. The other factory, Bemberg, remains, although it no longer is in production. A portion of Bemberg is still used by economic developer Charles Von Cannon as a small business incubator. Other parts of Bemberg are used by Carter County for its recycling program.

Bemberg, an affiliate of Vereinigte Glanzstoff Fabriken was the first factory to be built in Elizabethton and began manufacturing in October 1926. In August 1928, VGF began production in the second factory it built in Elizabethton, then called American Glantzstoff. The plants created a boom for the city and the region that lasted until the start of the Great Depression.

Both factories continued to operate through the economic hard times of the 1930s and the war years. As with other textile industries, the two plants found stiff competition from overseas producers in the postwar years. Bemberg filed for bankruptcy in 1974. North American continued to operate and received a boost from manufacturing carbonized rayon for the space shuttle program.

The work force at the plant continued to shrink. The end finally came when a huge fire burned the roof of the main building during the last week of February and the first week of March 2000.

The city and the Carter County Tomorrow economic development organization have plans to convert the section of Watauga River property just east of the plants into a commercial and residential riverfront. With the demolition of the North American buildings, there could be an expansion of the size of the riverfront plans.

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