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Unicoi closes deal on kitchen's future site

March 14th, 2014 11:06 am by Brad Hicks

Unicoi closes deal on kitchen's future site

UNICOI — The town of Unicoi now owns the future home of its Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

On Feb. 27, the town closed on the purchase of a building and the nearly 2 acres on which it sits to serve as the town’s community kitchen. This property is adjacent to the Unicoi Visitors Information Center.

Mayor Johnny Lynch said the purchase of the building cost around $220,000 and marks the completion of a process that began Feb. 17. At that time, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a measure to purchase the property and to take out the indebtedness necessary to make the buy.

The town of Unicoi said there are no other facilities like the Mountain Harvest Kitchen within 50 miles of the town. Once complete, the facility would allow its users to can and process food. Baking opportunities will also be offered at the kitchen.

The town had budgeted around $725,000 for the project, and has committed around $85,000 to the project. The town has also secured two U.S. Department of Agriculture grants totaling $80,000, as well as an Appalachian Regional Commission grant for $135,000, for the project. The town is also pursuing an Economic Development Administration Grant.

With the property now in hand, Lynch said the town can now begin the process of gutting the building to prepare it for the kitchen and can have an environmental assessment completed, which will aid in grant applications.

“Everything is lined up,” Lynch said. “We’re ready to start doing some things.”

The kitchen, which has been planned for several years, was originally slated for construction on property along Massachusetts Avenue, but these plans were altered due to several factors, Lynch said. Tractor trailers, in many cases due to inaccurate GPS directions, often ended up on the narrow roadway, leading to some getting “stuck” in the residential area. Lynch said officials felt that such trucks would have to make frequent trips to the community kitchen, which could lead to continued headaches.

Lynch said the location next to the information center will provide greater access not only to trucks, but the kitchen’s regular users. It will also offer greater convenience, Lynch said, as the kitchen will be located directly off Interstate 26. He said the new location also provides more room for future growth of the facility.

“This is a regional thing, so there’s a great likelihood there’ll be expansion in the future,” Lynch said.

Another factor that played into the relocation of the planned project is cost. Lynch said by utilizing and renovating an existing structure, rather than building one from scratch, the town should realize significant savings.

Most recently, the building to eventually become the community kitchen has served as a church. Lynch said it will be utilized for the purpose until April 1, and the town is helping the church out by allowing it to utilize the information center for services.

Lynch said work on the building could start in April, and the town could break ground on the kitchen this summer. Town officials are hoping to open the facility for use early next year.

Town officials feel the kitchen could serve as a business incubator, as it will allow users to sell products commercially, and they believe it should lead to local job creation.

Lynch said the project is in line with the push for healthier foods. He said the kitchen would provide users with a place to package healthy foods while giving kitchen users the proper training on how to do so safely to meet regulations.

“This is the trend of the future, and this falls right into that trend,” Lynch said. 

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