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Model Mill a 'catalyst' for Walnut Street redevelopment

Robert Houk • Mar 2, 2019 at 11:27 PM

The Model Mill begins a new chapter in its long history as a Johnson City landmark.

The owners of the 110-year-old structure on West Walnut Street expect major renovations to the four-story structure to be completed by the time the city wraps up its sesquicentennial celebration at the end of the year.

Grant Summers — who joined his father, Rab Summers, to form R & G Ventures Inc., which bought the mill building from the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce in 2016 — hopes to have his family’s highway construction business relocated to what will be its new corporate headquarters by December.

Summers-Taylor Inc. will occupy more than one-third of the mill’s space.

‘We’ll have our infrastructure in place and the shell will be completed by the end of the year,” Grant Summers said.

Crews have worked the past three years to repair damage to the mill from a 2017 fire, and have stripped many decades of paint, graffiti and soot from the brick structure. Work is now concentrated on new construction in the former flour-processing facility.

That includes transforming the tall silos of the Model Mill into the elevator shafts and stairwells of the facility. The entrance to the building will be located there.

Grant Summers said the redevelopment relies on exposed brick and high ceilings to “give the building character.” The sprawling building has 105 replacement windows, including one in what will be Summers’ office on the third floor overlooking Founders Park.

“My office has one of the better views,” Summers said. “That’s not by accident.”

Other tenants will be joining Summers-Taylor in the refurbished building. The Johnson City Chamber of Commerce has agreed to lease 7,500 square feet of the facility on the Model Mill’s third floor, and East Tennessee State University has committed to taking space on the second floor for a possible art gallery and for its alumni and foundation offices.

Summers said an artisan bakery will occupy the mill’s former office building facing West Walnut Street, and a 75-room boutique hotel will be built on the former Mize Farm and Garden corner of the property.

Developers also hope a “high-end” restaurant will locate on the Sevier Street side of the Model Mill. Summers said other outparcels are now being marketed.

The governments of Johnson City and Washington County have committed to a $1.2 million incentive to R & G for the project, paid for with tax increment financing. It is that investment, Summers said, which has spurred interest in redevelopment of the West Walnut Street corridor.

“I think this project has been a catalyst,” Summers said. “It has given the city the confidence to go ahead with the West Walnut Street redevelopment.”

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