Johnson City's old train depot on State of Franklin Road now has a new owner and he hopes to transform the historic landmark into a brewery and restaurant.
At a special called meeting Thursday, the Johnson City Development Authority agreed to sell the property to Sevierville Attorney Joe Baker. Baker, who also owns the Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinburg, began talking with the JCDA about his plans for the building last year.
"We have a couple potential tenants that are excited about the prospects," Baker said after the vote. "I'm in the business of selling distilled spirits and I think that a brewery could work well here in downtown and hope to see that happen."
As part of the deal, Baker will pay the JCDA $5,000 for the depot. That offer is not even close to the $150,000 the agency originally paid for the building.
However, JCDA Committee Chair David Tomita believes the agency would recoup the rest of its money within five to 10 years through tax collections from the project. He says it's a better investment than just leaving the building vacant.
"It looks kind of silly on the front-end if you don't have the background, but it will pay itself off," Tomita said. "It's an eyesore at one of the gateways to downtown, a real hazard. It's going to get burned down at some point from homeless people. We believe that Mr. Baker has the ability and the means to turn this into a viable project, so this time next year we might be standing at a building that says 'Open for Business' instead of an empty, deteriorating building."
The motion to approve the contract passed with seven people voting in favor, three opposing, and one abstaining. As part of the deal, JCDA has the option to buy back the building within a year at the $5,000 purchase price if board members are unhappy with the project's progress.
"I think that any movement is going to be good for downtown Johnson City," Baker said. "We're excited to try and serve as a catalyst for the surrounding area and get some energy here in downtown. I wouldn't want to get involved in a project unless we were going to be able to do some good both financially for ourselves and for the city. A win-win situation's always going to be best for everybody."