By Collin Brooks
Perhaps the biggest structure — and biggest eyesore — in downtown Johnson City will likely become a model once again. The principals of Summers Taylor Inc., Rab and Grant Summers, recently closed on the purchase of the old Model Mill Property.
The 40,000-square-foot building will become the headquarters for Summers Taylor and will also have room to house various other offices, according to Summers Taylor President Grant Summers.
“I believe it is a very important part of our downtown and part of our history of Johnson City as a whole. I just think it is a significant structure and I would hate to see it be lost,” Summers said. “Well before I even considered our involvement, I was passionate about saving it and the pieces fell together where we could have some involvement and use our headquarters relocation project to be an anchor for this project.”
A fire that engulfed a portion of the historic structure Sept. 25 put a hold on the closing while the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, which owned the property at the time, worked out the insurance payment for the arson-caused fire.
Interior and exterior cleaning, along with demolition has already started and will continue through the winter months, with Summers saying he hopes crews will be able to start true construction in the spring. If everything goes smoothly, Summers said the project could be completed by late 2018.
Even after the structure fire, Summers said he never second guessed whether his company should be pursuing the purchase of the building.
“I didn’t have any second thoughts,” Summers said. “The night that (the fire) happened, what is running through your head is if the building is still structurally secure, if the insurance can pay for the clean up … it was always our hope to continue moving forward.”
On Nov. 28, the Washington County Commission approved a tax increment funding package that would not exceed $1.2 million with that money assisting on the redevelopment of the first phase of the project.
That phase includes the renovation of the Model Mill, which will become the headquarters for Summers Taylor, Inc. Summers also said that there will be space for another large office tenant, as well as other retail and/or restaurant ventures that would like to be a part of the revitalization of West Walnut Street.
With the Summers Taylor, Inc., headquarters being the anchor tenant, Summers said that they want to make sure to make something that everyone will be proud of.
“I’m going to have to look at it every single day for at least the next 50 years, I hope, so I think it will be a broad range of things, from hopefully some high-end dining and retail to a smaller collection of spaces like downtown. We are just really starting to dive into the master planning and visioning of it right now.”
The vacant land with State of Franklin frontage could see construction of high-end restaurants, while the frontage along West Walnut will be developed in a “downtown style”, according to Summers, with stores on the street front and parking located behind it.
“It takes a little bit of vision right now, but we think people are going to be jumping out of the woodwork to want to be a part of this,” Summer said. “So we are just trying to focus on getting it cleaned up and getting that process started.”
Summers said that his group hopes to keep the original architectural essence of the project true, including maintaining the silos and hopefully splitting them into a unique small space for tenants. He and his company were appreciative of the support he has received from the business community and the surrounding neighborhood since his interest in the property was announced.
“The public support and response that we have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive and we really appreciate that,” Summers said. “It is a big risk and it does look pretty bad inside and out right now, so to have the encouragement of so many people it definitely helps you push through things like the fire.”