After fire, Summers-Taylor still planning to buy historic General Mills building in Johnson City

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- Sunday night dozens of people lined the streets, watching a fire rip through a historic downtown Johnson City building.

The old General Mills building caught on fire last night, just months after construction company Summers-Taylor announced new plans for the century-old structure.

Johnson City Police said Sunday night they responded at the building to a possible robbery and caught someone inside the building just 10 minutes before fire fighters responded to a fire at the building. That individual is now a person of interest, according to police.

Monday we talked with people who live by the mill who have fought for years for its preservation.

“The fire was devastating. We looked out our back window and all we could see were flames from the mill which is right in our backyard,” neighbor Gwen Hunter said.

A group of people in Johnson City’s South Side neighborhood spent years fighting to preserve the mill, saying it’s a key part of the city’s history.

“This place matters. George L. Carter started this community because of the mill. We exist as a neighborhood because of the mill,” neighbor Lisa Orr said.

The mill sat vacant for the past 14 years. Then in July, many neighbors of the mill finally got the answer they’d been fighting for when Summers-Taylor announced plans to preserve, not tear down the mill. Then three months later, neighbors looked out their windows to find the building on fire.

“It was like watching a friend burn, so sad for this neighborhood and for our entire community,” Hunter said.

“It’s unfortunate for sure,” Grant Summers, president of Summers-Taylor said. “It was empty for so long and I think so many people have made it their playground and maybe they don’t like that anymore but we’re just trying to get it cleaned up and have it be a positive part of downtown now so we’re still working at it.”

Summers announced in July his company planned to buy the mill and renovate it in to office, retail, and restaurant space.

“From what we know right now we are not backing off,” Summers said.

Summers said his team is still evaluating the damage, “I went up on top of it today and it looks like it was kind of confined to the roof and some of the flooring in that three-story section, and then a lot of water damage to the other sections from the water they used to put it out so we’re still evaluating, it looks like it’s still fairly structurally sound.”

Summers originally told us he hoped to start work on the mill this fall. He told us Monday that’s still the plan.

“It’s a lot of cleanup and remediation first, it was going to be, now it’s a lot worse but that’s where we’ll start and then construction probably next year,” Summers said.

You can click here to read our web story with more information about what the Johnson City police and fire chiefs said happened Sunday night.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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