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Hands On! hopes to maintain downtown Johnson City presence after move to Gray

Nathan Baker • Updated Oct 14, 2016 at 4:46 PM

Hands On! Regional Museum Executive Director Andy Marquart says the museum’s governing board plans to complete the move to the Gray Fossil Site sometime in 2018 — but may maintain a downtown Johnson City presence.

Speaking to Johnson City Development Authority members Friday at their monthly meeting, Marquart said Hands On! leaders are looking for a partnership with a downtown property owner who has floor space to dedicate to exhibits.

“Our board views the relationship with Johnson City as very positive,” he said. “At times in the past, we were the attraction downtown, but now we feel like downtown is the attraction, and it’s something we’d like to fold into.”

In July, Hands On! took over operation of the East Tennessee State University General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site. Then, Marquart said the museum’s board planned to expand exhibits into existing empty space at the Gray location, and eventually build a larger science center there.

By the end of 2018, the director said Hands On! will completely close the location at 315 E. Main St., where it’s been for nearly 30 years.

Marquart said the board is not currently looking at available space, but has projected at least 5,000 square feet is needed to make a downtown satellite worthwhile.

“As things continue to evolve and develop downtown, if somebody wanted to bring Hands On! into a space they’re developing with a project, then we’re all ears and willing to look at it,” he said. … “If people are interested in having conversations with us and the board about co-development, we’d be willing to listen.”

JCDA members also approved a tax increment financing incentive package for R&G Ventures to help redevelop the Model Mill on West Walnut Street.

The incentives, which would provide R&G with up to $1.2 million generated by the increased property tax collections from the increase in value after the development project, have already been OKed by the JCDA’s TIF Advisory Committee and Washington County’s Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural and Budget committees.

They must still be approved by the full County Commission and the Johnson City Commission.

Because the city prohibits the recipients of TIF money from serving on the JCDA board, Grant Summers, principal of R&G and president of construction firm Summers-Taylor, tendered his resignation from the board, effective immediately. Summers was not present during the vote for the TIF package.

Summers-Taylor plans to invest approximately $7 million to rehabilitate the dilapidated — and now partially burned — former flour mill, transforming it into office space for the company’s new headquarters other offices for lease, retail and educational areas.

R&G also plans to build commercial out parcels on the land, and potentially the neighboring Mize Farm & Garden Supply property, for other businesses.

Email Nathan Baker at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jcpressbaker or on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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