Chamber zeroing in on new home

Robert Houk • Feb 11, 2018 at 4:33 PM

The Johnson City Chamber of Commerce’s long search for a new home could be coming to an end. Chamber President/CEO Gary Mabrey said last week that while his organization is still vetting locations for its new headquarters, officials would “love to make an announcement by the first or second quarter” at the latest.

“We’ve looked at more than 50 locations in Washington County, and we have a particular location or two in mind,” he said.

The Chamber has been looking for a new place to call home for nearly a decade. It launched a fundraising campaign and bought the century-old Model Mill on West Walnut Street in 2008 for $400,000 with the idea of renovating the historic property as its new headquarters. Those plans, however, were abandoned when the Chamber was told the cost to redevelop the Model Mill was much higher than anticipated.

The Chamber then decided to put the property up for sell. North Carolina-based Evolve Development signed a contract to purchase the Model Mill and planned to construct a multi-family apartment complex. That idea was challenged by nearby residers of the Tree Streets. The deal later collapsed following changes to the housing market.

In 2015, R&G Ventures, an incorporation of Summers-Taylor owners Rab and Grant Summers, paid the Chamber $570,000 to purchase the Model Mill with plans to relocate the road construction company’s headquarters to the property. Mabrey said proceeds from the sale of the mill will be applied with the $350,000 raised in the first phase of the project’s fundraising campaign to purchase property for the Chamber’s new location.

Mabrey said the Chamber has simply outgrown its current headquarters at 603 E. Market St., where it has been since 1978.

“It was a prime location at one point, but residents and visitors can’t find us easily even with GPS,” he said.

Mabrey said plans are to build a new 10,000-square-foot energy-efficient Chamber headquarters with enough offices and meeting spaces to accommodate the growing organization. Mabrey said the new building will be “green” and offer the aesthetics and wired technology needed in today’s business world.

Once the new location is announced, the Chamber will launch a $2 million second phase of its capital fundraising campaign for the project. Mabrey said the Chamber’s “sincere openness and transparency” during the first phase of its fundraising should bode well as the project moves forward.

“No one has asked for their money back, “ he said.

If all goes as planned, Chamber officials hope to be in their new headquarters by late 2019.

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