Renovations progress at Model Mill site

Nathan Baker • Apr 5, 2018 at 11:13 PM

Crews at the Model Mill spent the winter removing abandoned equipment and cleaning the interior of the century-old building, and now that it’s getting warmer, passersby should notice changes on the outside.

In an update to the Johnson City Development Authority Thursday, Summers-Taylor Inc. president Grant Summers, shared progress photos of the multimillion-dollar remodel and discussed the future plans for the former flour processing plant on West Walnut Street.

Since buying the mill in 2016 from the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, workers for development company R & G Ventures, an incorporation owned by Rab and Grant Summers, have removed and repaired damage from a 2017 fire, pulled out tons of left-behind flour processing machinery and stripped decades of dirt from interior structures.

The interior was gutted down to structural timbers and brick, Summers said, and those surfaces were blasted to clean them and prepare them for the interior buildout.

There are 105 windows in the sprawling campus, and they were opened up, some by removing brick and glass blocks. Summers said the size of the arched window openings vary by as much as two inches, but workers plan to install common-sized glass in the 10-foot openings and fill the difference with custom mullions.

Crews spent the past few weeks attempting to clean the coats of white paint off the exterior brick, and cut through layer after layer, but found out the paint had soaked into the historic brick. Summers said experts told him the paint would not come off without destroying the underlying brick, so the plan now is to clean off as much loose paint as possible, then repaint the building using earth tones.

R & G bought the property to renovate part of it, the three-story section, for Summers-Taylor’s corporate headquarters, which will move from Elizabethton. Summers said the company is about a month away from submitting final plans to the city for that section, and hope to complete the asphalt company’s offices by the third quarter of 2019.

East Tennessee State University is in talks with the company to occupy a two-story section to use as an art gallery for faculty, staff and students.

University President Brian Noland said Thursday the institution is “very excited” to be part of the massive revitalization project.

In the remaining five-story section of the main building, Summers said would be leased to a mix of commercial and residential tenants. Part will be used as a small business incubator, and the fifth floor will be converted to condominiums with a rooftop patio providing 360-degree views of downtown Johnson City, the neighboring Tree Streets Neighborhood and East Tennessee State University.

In the separate, smaller buildings, Summers said a bakery has signed up, a restaurant is interested and a high-end restaurant from an owner with ties to Johnson City may move in at the corner of Sevier Street and State of Franklin Road. A hotel could go on an outparcel where the former Mize Farm & Garden Supply operated.

“We’re farther along that we thought we’d be be signing people up,” Summers said. “Everything’s progressing nicely.”

The city and county committed to a $1.2 million incentive to R & G for the project, paid for with tax increment financing. Part of the Development Authority meeting Thursday was to amend the incentive contract with the company to allow it to retain ownership of the property.

Summers said the changes let the developer keep lower interest rates, which would rise to current rates if the company conveyed the property to the JCDA, a common practice for other projects.

The pledged incentive will likely pay for demolition for the project, which Summers said has risen from an estimated $7 million to at least $10 million.

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