The Johnson City Area Chamber of Commerce plans to move to about 7,500 square feet of leased space at the historic Model Mill on West Walnut Street once renovations to the 110-year-old structure are complete. The chamber’s president and CEO, Bob Cantler, appeared at the Johnson City Commission meeting on Thursday to formally request that the city buy the Chamber’s property at 603 E. Market St.
The Chamber has occupied its building on East Market Street since it was constructed in 1978.
According to state property data, the total market appraisal of the property is $503,100. Cantler said the building sits on a little less than one acre of property.
Cantler said that the property could become additional office space for the city, an outpost for outdoor recreation or a visitor center.
“We would like to work with the city in any way we could possible to facilitate that arrangement,” he said.
City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners that the city is in the process of having a real estate appraisal done on the property. The city also plans to conduct a complete evaluation of the building’s mechanical systems and an environmental analysis.
Peterson said staff have also been discussing potential uses for the property.
“From my perspective, there are a lot higher and better uses for it than a trailhead,” Peterson said. “We have some space needs for staff.”
Peterson said Friday the city has remote functions that may run more efficiently if they’re closer to or in City Hall. He said some departments in the city’s headquarters operate in tight, constricted spaces.
“There are times that we identify the need perhaps for a new employee, and we always have to go through the exercise of, ‘OK, I can justify it. I can fund that position, but where do we put that person?’” he said.
Even if the city decides to buy the property, Peterson said there would likely be a “considerable cost” to remodel the building for the government’s purposes.
He said the parking spaces aren’t currently compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said an elevator would also have to be installed to bring it into compliance with the law.
Peterson anticipates the city will review the proposal over the next six to seven weeks. Once officials receive the results of the property evaluations, Peterson said city staff will put together a recommendation that they will send to commissioners for their consideration.
At earliest, Cantler said the Chamber may be able to move to the Model Mill in July.
Cantler said the Chamber is having conversations with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership about potentially sharing space at the Model Mill.
“Their staff and our staff could co-habitate in that location, and that creates a lot of syngergies,” he said. “We represent the business community, and they’re recruiting for the business community.”
Cantler said the chamber has not at this time approached any other entities about buying the property on East Market Street.
“Strategically and efficiently, the city taking over the building is probably the best path,” he said.