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UPDATE: Summers says company 'not backing out' of mill sale after fire

Nathan Baker • Updated Sep 26, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Gary Mabrey, the leader of the organization that owns — and was weeks away from selling — the Model Mill, said he watched a live video stream of the 107-year-old building burning Sunday night from out of town.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but I thank our city firefighters last night for their professionalism and bravery,” the Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO said Monday morning.

Firefighters were still sifting through the burned remnants, trying to determine the cause of the fire, while Mabrey was hoping to salvage the pending sale of the mill to R&G Ventures, an incorporation of Summers-Taylor owners Rab and Grant Summers.

“We still have an agreement, and we’re still working toward closing,” Mabrey said of the sale contract. “We will have to look at the structure and assess the extent of the damage to see if there is anything we need to rectify.”

Grant Summers was also out of town Sunday night. He caught an early flight home Monday to survey the damage.

“We’re still trying to figure out the full extent,” he said Monday afternoon. “It appears most of the fire damage was in the third floor attic space.”

The roof of that section, a shorter part of the building on the northeast corner, was burned through. The flames burned through the floor into the second story, but Summers said the supports for the floor appear to be largely intact. The fire did not spread into the taller, four-story section of the mill.

The thousands of gallons of water used by firefighters to extinguish the flames caused “significant water damage” to the floors below, into the space the construction company planned to use as its new headquarters, Summers said.

Former workers at the flour processing mill previously said the original masonry walls were built thick and sturdy, intending them to withstand a grain dust explosion and force a blast upward through the roof.

Before the fire, R&G was on track to receive tax increment financing to rehabilitate the aging property. Summers intended to remove the metal-sided additions and repair and renovate the original spaces for Summers-Taylor’s headquarters and offices, restaurant and retail spaces in the rest of the building. Part of the plan included subdividing the land and building outparcel commercial buildings along West State of Franklin Road, where the Chamber holds an option to move its headquarters.

After surveying the damage, Summers said his company’s plan is to stay the course.

“At this point, we’re not backing out,” he said. “We’re still evaluating what it’s going to cost to fix all of this. It is a little tricky, because we do not own the building.”

He said the property was insured by the Chamber, but the insurance company has not yet estimated how much of the cleanup costs will be covered.

R&G originally estimated investing at least $7 million to rehabilitate the building.

On Sept. 15, the Johnson City Development’s TIF Advisory Committee recommended the board move forward with providing funding for the project.

In the first step toward approving funding, the committee recommended the JCDA buy the mill from the Chamber, then resell it to R&G at a lower price. The difference would represent the first portion of the TIF benefits.

Washington County Economic Development Council Downtown Development Manager Dianna Cantler said last week the project looked promising. The project met most of the board’s new criteria for judging TIF worthiness for additional benefits, she said.

“We know with the mill, it’s going to be just the beginning of development on Walnut Street,” she said. “It really will make an impact on growing the downtown district.”

After the advisory committee’s approval, the TIF proposal was scheduled for consideration by the Washington County Commission’s Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee and Budget Committee and the JCDA board next month. Cantler said she hoped the full County Commission would approve the plan before the end of October.

Summers said he did not believe the fire would delay the TIF approval process.

R&G announced in July its plan to buy the mill after the Chamber board unanimously accepted its $570,000 offer. The company and the organization were amid an official due diligence process, which could last to December until the property is sold.

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

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