Leaders with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership got a glimpse of the future Tuesday during a luncheon at a historic building from Johnson City’s past.
NETREP investors were given a tour of renovations to the Model Mill on West Walnut Street.
The 109-year-old building will serve as the new headquarters for Summers-Taylor Inc. when a multimillion-dollar facelift is completed in late 2019. The facility will also provide space to East Tennessee State University for a student art gallery, and developers said a “high-end” restaurant is looking to locate on the Sevier Street side of the former mill.
A 75-room boutique hotel has also committed to build on the former Mize Farm and Garden corner of the property.
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, also said Tuesday his company is in talks to lease 7,000 square feet on the third floor to the local chamber.
He said a local artisan bakery has also agreed to occupy space on the mill property, which is being redeveloped with the help of tax increment financing.
“This is a huge example of a public/private partnership,” Summers said.
Crews from R & G have worked the past three years to repair damage to the mill from a 2017 fire, and have stripped many decades of paint and soot from the brick structure.
Summers told NETREP investors he was eager to move his family’s asphalt/paving business from Elizabethton to the former flour processing mill.
“We are very involved in the downtown,” Summers said. “That’s been my passion.”
Summers said work at the Model Mill has now moved from an extensive cleaning phase to actual construction. Summers said new windows were being installed currently on the third floor, which are among a total of 105 to be replaced throughout the sprawling building.
He said saving the architectural integrity of the mill was very important. Summers said the views of the downtown and Tree Streets from what will be a conference room on the fourth floor was reason enough to pursue the project.
“Some people have said to me, ‘Are you crazy? It’s a big, nasty building,’” he said. “This has got to be a heart project, because there have been times when doesn’t seem to be a head project.”
Earlier in the NETREP investors’ meeting, Summers briefed attendees on the progress of the city’s soon-to-be-opened mountain bike park atop Tannery Knobs. He said the scenic tract’s best use is as a public park.
Karl Knight, an account executive for Blue Ridge Outdoors, told NETREP officials mountain biking was one of the amenities that helped to land Johnson City on the October cover as one of his magazine’s “Top Adventure Towns” for 2018. He said outdoor recreation has directly created 188,000 jobs in Tennessee.
“Get outside, Northeast Tennessee, and play,” Knight said. “And encourage others to play in it.”