The 104-year-old Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad Depot built by railroad tycoon George L. Carter in 1909 is finally showing signs that renovation is near.
Despite the structure’s age and the substantial roof work that needs to be done, the depot is in relatively good condition, according to co-developer Greg Cox.
“Everybody talks about how it’s falling down. It’s really not falling down. They built it to last,” he said.
Outside the depot, local company Rainey Contracting has set up a trailer and a temporary orange work fence around the historic property, and plans are being finalized to be presented at the end of the month to Johnson City’s Historic Zoning Commission.
Once the Historic Zoning Commission signs off on the plans, Cox said they can begin pulling permits and the renovation project should begin in early February.
The historic depot will be the home of Asheville, N.C.-based Tupelo Honey Cafe, which announced in July its intention to open its fourth location by fall 2013.
Sevierville attorney Joe Baker purchased the historic landmark from the Johnson City Development Authority — who bought the property in 2010 for $150,000 from a real estate company that repossessed it — in July for $5,000 in order to open a brewery and locally-themed restaurant.
Cox said he expects the renovation of the depot to take about six to eight months to complete before its turned over to the Tupelo Honey design team.
“We’ll work on the shell and then Tupelo will follow along with whatever they’re going to do on the inside,” Cox said.
Rainey Contracting will be doing the renovation of the building, with Uwe Rothe serving as architect.
“We’re doing most of the work. They’re (Tupelo Honey) not going to do a ton and hopefully they’ll be doing that in conjunction with us until we get six to eight months down the road. They probably need two months to get their stuff done and then they’re going to want to staff up and train,” Cox said.
Developers are pursuing a tax credit through the Investment Tax Credit Program, which is 20 percent of what an owner spends rehabilitating a historic structure.
Cox said they are designing their plans from two sets of original plans, one of which is from 1909.
Since the property is located in a historic district, renovation has to meet certain criteria, especially when qualifying for the tax credit.
Any change that was made to the structure after 1958 can be restored to its original form, according to Cox.
That’s what developers plan to do with the two-story structure adjacent to the freight bay.
Cox said the first story will be turned into retail space, while the upper portion — which housed the station’s offices — will be turned into separate offices that will be rented out.
The one major change that’s slated for the two-story structure will involve creating some type of entrance into the upper portion of the building.
“There’s an overhang over the entrance to the building on the two-story part. That part of the porch isn’t original, so I don’t know what we’re going to put there yet, but other than that everything will stay the same or is going back to what it’s supposed to be,” Cox said.
Repairing the roof and the trusses inside the 5,800-square-foot freight bay, which will house Tupelo Honey Cafe, will require the most work. Other work includes cleaning and repainting brick, repairing windows, and a complete overhaul of the depot’s major mechanical systems.
Although there has been a considerable amount of excitement surrounding the arrival of Tupelo Honey and the renovation of the depot itself, some people have expressed concerns about parking at the property.
Cox said there will be more than 25 spaces at the depot, in addition to a parking lot that will be rented across from Summers Industrial, and street parking available near the property.
“I think we’re going to have the best parking downtown besides The Battery,” he said.
After working on the depot project for more than a year, Cox said it’s exciting to be at a point where people should start to see a difference at the property and the downtown area in general.
“I really have a passion for downtown, and I think with the depot, people will start realizing downtown Johnson City can be a fun, attractive, safe place to go and so that’s my favorite thing about it. It looks like it’s finally going to happen,” he said.