The Chamber of Commerce isn’t giving up its dreams of one day having a new headquarters at the former General Mills site.
Since its purchase nearly four years ago, Chamber President and CEO Gary Mabrey said both board leaders with the Chamber and Chamber Foundation are continuing to pursue development at the mill property.
Just what kind of development remains unclear.
“We’re continuing to work with some developers who are looking at either renovating the mill and/or just develop a building there and keep the mill there. We’re not sure how it’s going to flesh out,” Mabrey said.
Determining the best use of the existing building and the site is key to whatever development happens at the property. TCI Group-Jerry Petzoldt Agency has been working with the Chamber as the local developer and partner in the project, with Jerry Petzoldt leading recent discussions.
Entrepreneur George L. Carter originally constructed the “Model Mill” in 1909. In addition to several silos, the mill includes the main four-story warehouse, which includes about 50,000 finished square feet, and two smaller two-story buildings of 5,200 square feet and 5,800 square feet.
It became the property of General Mills in 1931 after it was purchased for $1 million by Washburn-Crosley. The mill has been abandoned since being re-sold to Ohio-based Mennel Milling Co. in 2003 for $3.5 million.
The Chamber Foundation purchased the 5-acre property that sits at the intersections of West State of Franklin Road, West Walnut Street, Sevier Street and West Watauga Avenue for $400,000 in June 2008, using a line of credit provided by a partnership of 10 area banks with hopes of a new headquarters and a way to spur development near the downtown area.
With the property’s prime location between some of the major economic forces in the region — East Tennessee State University, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home and the Johnson City Medical Center — that is still very much the goal of the stalled project, Mabrey said.
“We feel that with everything else going along State of Franklin that our location is just a great fulcrum between a major part of our regional economy ... and, of course, being a fulcrum means there’s the other end at downtown and Interstate 26, so we’re quite pleased with the opportunity and feel like we’re being another one of those catalysts along State of Franklin and in the community for the future,” he said.
The Chamber’s capital campaign has remained strong as the organization has pursued a new building.
Mabrey said the campaign has raised about $200,000 since it began, putting it about $75,000 short of the campaign’s immediate goal, giving the Chamber clear ownership of the property.
“We think once we get a developer and we get an even stronger concept and some renderings that we have the campaign will launch to a whole other level,” he said. “We are working with our members and with the community as they try to deal with the economy. We as a Chamber deal with the same economy, because we’re a business just like they are.”
Mabrey said the Chamber is hopeful they will have begun development on a new home in time for their 100th anniversary in 2015.
“Sometime between now and our 100th year, we intend to have a new Chamber location on State of Franklin at the General Mills site,” he said.