KINGSPORT - It's been more than a year since the official announcement, but the plan to rebuild the Netherland Inn bank barn has received the green light to proceed.
The Netherland Inn/Exchange Place Association announced in April 2006 plans to rebuild the bank barn - an early 1800s barn used as a stagecoach stop - to its original condition of 4,800 square feet on three levels. Preliminary plans call for the first level to be an open area for events, the second level to be a transportation museum for flatboats, and the third level may be a caretaker home.
Since the announcement last year, little has been mentioned about the status of the project. That is until last week.
"We have everything done, and we just got great news (Tuesday) afternoon that everything is cleared for takeoff," said Bill Albright, transportation manager for Kingsport. "We can proceed with the bid process and construction of the bank barn."
Albright said he has e-mailed Netherland Inn officials and the architects about the city receiving the letter of authorization from the grants division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
"Up until now we couldn't proceed without it," Albright said.
Before the project could be signed off by the state and federal governments, several things had to happen first, including an archeological survey, an environmental survey and a right of way title search.
Archeologists with the University of Tennessee spent three days at the site last summer, excavating the floor of the original bank barn, identifying the foundation of the building. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also had to sign off on the project.
"It's just bureaucracy. You have to do this, you have to do that before you can proceed with it. It's just taken time," Albright said. "It took longer than it should have and longer than normal."
Kingsport received a $421,370 grant from TDOT for the reconstruction of the bank barn. Total cost of the project is estimated to be $530,000. The association discovered the original limestone foundation of the bank barn in 1972, but the foundation was covered with plastic and reburied until work could actually start on rebuilding the barn.
Albright said the city will go out to bid on the project and construction may begin as early as June.
"We're excited that we finally got all of this stuff out of the way," Albright said. "It did take longer than normal, but we got it done, and now we're real excited to get into the construction."
The rebuilding of the bank barn will be the first phase in a major reconstruction project at the Netherland Inn. Future plans call for a full-size wharf and flatboat and the construction of a salt warehouse - all to return the property to what it looked like in the early 1800s.
David Oaks, former chair of the steering committee, called the announcement "fantastic news."
"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's about a 22," Oaks said. "We have been looking forward a long, long time for this from the standpoint of what it's going to do by expanding the complex down there.
"It's a very positive thing for tourism and our heritage and shows what can be done with the King's Port on the Holston project."
Kingsport essentially started on the banks of the Holston River. From the 1760s, travelers came by wagon down the Island Road to the riverbank, where they built boats and migrated west.
William King (Kingsport's namesake) built the Netherland Inn in 1802 and 1808. King also developed a boat yard at the inn to ship salt. In 1818, Richard Netherland bought the inn in a sheriff's sale, and it was a stop on the Great Old Stage Road - the main route to Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.