Progress continues on redevelopment of North Commerce Street

David Floyd • Oct 11, 2019 at 10:00 PM

Stakeholders anticipate the effort to rehabilitate a previously under-utilized block of buildings on North Commerce Street, which run alongside the Norfolk Southern train tracks in downtown Johnson City, will reach some milestones in the next several months.

Triple G Ventures, a partnership of Greg Cox of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, developer Grant Summers and Cary Green, owns four buildings along that block of Commerce Street — 113, 119, 121 and 123 N. Commerce St.

Triple G Ventures has consolidated the buildings at 119, 121 and 123 N. Commerce St. into a single address, 121 N. Commerce St., and is redeveloping the structures with a combination of commercial space on the bottom levels and loft-style apartments on the top floor. The buildings used to be home to a produce delivery company.

Construction began in late 2018, and Cox said crews are wrapping up the apartments, but he said Triple G Ventures hopes to have the whole project complete in the next four to five months. Once they finish the project at 121 N. Commerce St., the developers will  shift their focus to 113 N. Commerce St.

Cox said they’ll start working on architectural drawings for the space at 113 N. Commerce St. in the next four months.

Crews have completed 10 apartments on the top floor of 121 N. Commerce St., three of which are still available for lease. There are two more units that developers are in the process of finishing, which Cox anticipates should be ready in about six weeks. Cox said the units have a monthly rent ranging from $800 to $1,450.

“The nice thing about a project downtown is that everyone in the community can enjoy it,” said Cox, who also co-owns the historic Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio train depot on West State of Franklin Road. “It’s not like doing a condo complex on a plot of land outside of town. It’s nice when it’s in the middle of town.”

Go Burrito!, a California-style burrito restaurant that started in Salisbury, North Carolina, has occupied space on the first floor of 121 N. Commerce St. for several months, and Cox said developers are talking to two other potential commercial tenants about moving into available square footage on the bottom floor. The buildings have three storefronts facing Commerce Street, but taking into account room for office space, Cox said 121 N. Commerce St. has capacity for up to five commercial tenants.

The buildings at 113 and 121 N. Commerce St. are also benefiting from a $300,000 tax increment financing agreement, or TIF.

“Those are vital to make these things work,” Cox said. “When you have a row of 10 or 11 blighted buildings, it’s hard to invest the money that the city requires to bring things up to code when you’re going to have neighbors that are still kind of dilapidated. The TIF can help close that risk a little bit.”

Next door, Nancy Fischman plans on opening an art space in the building she owns at 133 N. Commerce St. called Atelier 133. The building will include 15 studio spaces, a classroom and a gallery. “Atelier” is the French word for “studio.”

She said the roughly $700,000 project, which is now under construction, will likely open its doors in February or March. She bought the building on Commerce Street about four years ago for $58,000. The building will also include a bakery and cafe, Lazy Lady Baking Co., operated by Fischman’s daughter.

Fischman plans on forming a non-profit organization to oversee the art space. She’s hoping to get grant money to put together workshops and fund exhibits. Grant funds would also help support internships and resident artists.

There are 14 studio spaces available for rent, and Fischman said 10 people have already expressed interest. She’s still determining the studio rent.

Go Burrito!, she said, has already been generating a lot of foot traffic on Commerce Street.

“Having some arts involvement is really going to make that a popular place to be for people to eat and go look at art, and buy art hopefully, and for recreation,” she said.

Around May of this year, local business partners Nick Adams and Spencer McKenzie bought the buildings at 115 and 117 N. Commerce St. Property records show the buildings were previously owned by the Richard and Kristina Nelson Living Trust, which has an address in California.

Eva Hunter, a broker at the Wilson Agency in Johnson City who helped facilitate the purchase, said Adams and McKenzie are still in the planning stages for the redevelopment of those buildings. Hunter said so far their ideas have included putting in a community meeting space, an art space, a coffee shop with a deli, or a grab-and-go style store.

To her knowledge, Hunter said the ultimate use for the building won’t involve the sale of alcohol, which she said is important to Adams and McKenzie because they’re both Christians.

“Both buildings are in good shape, and so it can accommodate a lot of ideas,” Hunter said.

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