Plans for a group of investors to establish a brewery, distillery and restaurant in downtown Lenoir City are slowly progressing.

City officials and investors in July 2018 formally announced plans that the old Lenoir City Utilities Board building off Depot Street would become Bussell Island Distilling and Brewing Company. The city also held a ground-breaking ceremony in March 2019.

Some interior cleanup began in August. Kris Tatum, one of the investors, said hopes are to begin interior demolition in January or February.

“Our plan what we’d like to be is have an opening in 2020,” Tatum said. “It’s a long process to get a distillery license, etc. We’ve done this before, but the big thing right now is ... there’s no sense going in and demoing half the building and everybody leaving and then coming back for the rest right there, the interior — the fire hall.”

Hopes are to open the fourth quarter of 2020. Tatum could not determine if the business would open in phases.

Part of the holdup has been waiting for Lenoir City Fire Department to move into its new fire hall in the old LCUB service center.

“At this point we’re looking at late 2020 to get really in depth with a lot of work they have to do in the inside of the building and the exterior. They don’t want to disrupt the fire station,” Amber Scott, Lenoir City administrator, said. “Obviously, there’s gentlemen that sleep there, eat there and go on calls trying to get in and out. So they really want to be careful not to do too much until the fire station is relocated.”

Some preliminary renderings have been created, but Tatum is hesitant to show them until more finalized. Renderings were presented at a Nov. 6 Historic Downtown Lenoir City Merchants Association meeting.

Tatum hoped to meet with the architect Tuesday to nail down more concrete renderings.

“The exterior there won’t be as much of a difference because they wanted to keep the feeling of the building that it had before,” Scott said. “They want to clean it up a bit, clean the brick, but they’re going to keep that stone front, the marble look, and there’s not going to be as much that they do to the outside.”

A new name could also be in play since Tatum said the group has three names for consideration. New names were considered after the group delved further into the area’s history.

“The more we talked about it and looked through it, you’ve got to look at something that’s going to carry outside of Lenoir City and although Bussell Island is a great name it may not be exactly what we want to have the spread and the reach and the recognition outside of East Tennessee,” he said. “I think our plan is still to utilize the historical elements and significant names and places within the area, whether that’s on spirits and drinks, but that’s just a matter of thinking through it.”

Plans are also for the business to be part of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, Tatum said.

Scott hopes that will be another added destination for visitors.

“A draw for people from out of state, out of town and also the locals,” she said. “To keep the locals, give them something new to do downtown and, of course, help the other retailers that are down there now. Foot traffic is what everyone wants.”

To make the area more pedestrian-friendly, Scott said the city could close part of Nelson Street beside the old LCUB building and make it a green space.

“Of course, we would have the parklet at South A Street, people kind of walking around there,” Scott said. “Just kind of making downtown, adding to its sense of place.”

Relocation progressing

Hopes are for Lenoir City firefighters to move into the new fire hall by March, Scott said.

Don White, Lenoir City police chief, is handling the project.

“We are currently just working through the foundation portion and getting the new fire apparatus base erected and then the interior of the building that will become the new training area as well as office and bunk rooms for the firefighters,” White said. “I think all that should be completed and we should be able to do a ribbon cutting by early March. ... We’re probably realistically two weeks behind my initial schedule that I had put together just due to weather, trying to get the dirt work completed as well as getting the concrete slab poured.”

Lenoir City Council in August gave the go-ahead for a new metal building to house fire engines and fire equipment beside the old LCUB service center. Council went with a $67,255 quote from Holston Construction.

“Right now I think we’re set for the erectors to stand the steel up on Monday of (this) week and I think the exterior portion of the building will be completed in five to six working days, and then we will start the interior part doing the plumbing and wiring and the garage doors,” White said. “The demolition and sprinkler system on the main existing building will start as well (this) week and then it’ll be at that point in time the progress should be going pretty quickly because we’ll be working indoors so the weather will not hinder us.”

The old service center will be renovated.

“We do want to get them moved so that the distillery, we want to make them feel comfortable to continue their work,” Scott said. “We don’t want to hold them back, but at the same time we don’t want to rush and to a point of detriment and cause an issue. We want to make that a fire hall that’s sustainable for many, many years.”