JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — It hasn’t been quick or easy, but a Johnson City renovation of three former department stores downtown into residential and commercial space is nearing completion.

With 29 apartments set to open around Halloween, The Henry On Main also has a business lined up — with just a bit of final paperwork remaining — to occupy the biggest (12,000-square-foot) commercial space inside the former J.C. Penney building.

“Our timeline was to be done about 15 months ago,” Universal Development Corp. (UDC) CEO Shane Abraham said of the project that’s overhauling nearly 100,000 square feet in the 300 block of East Main Street. “The challenge has primarily been, these old buildings that once you get into them, when you’re kind of peeling back the layers it’s hard to imagine.”

Work is still being staged in the former J.C. Penney building, but a contract is in place for a business to take the 12,000 square feet on the first floor and mezzanine. (Photo: WJHL)

But the layers are pretty well peeled back now inside the buildings that once housed J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward and Sears. Abraham said 29 apartments should be ready for move-in around Halloween (five others are already complete).

“We’re getting a lot of prospects and a lot of leads, a lot of interest,” Abraham said, adding that a few of the unfinished apartments already have signed leases. “It’s going to be fun as we complete that part of it.”

He said as people move into the one and two-bedroom units with large original windows and the other features of downtown living, leasing the remaining commercial space should be even easier. The plan does include two three-bedroom apartments.

“It’s going to be a great project. You know, we’ve said from the beginning this, this is a project of community, it’s a project of passion,” the Johnson City native said.

Fellow Johnson Citian Philip Cox teamed with Abraham to buy the buildings, part of which once housed Hands On! Museum, directly from the City of Johnson City in 2019. While the $600,000 they paid was less than half the original asking price, Abraham and Cox agreed not to ask for any other incentives, and Abraham said if they were in it for the return on investment, they could have gone any number of better directions.

The Henry on Main partner Shane Abraham in one of the apartments that’s within a few months of being occupancy ready. (Photo: WJHL)

“It’s absolutely stretching out for term projections, but it’s still going to be a good project,” Abraham said. “The icing on the cake is getting the commercial users in place and with what we have in place for J.C. Penney’s if that comes to fruition, there’s no doubt that these last two spaces will come in play.”

Abraham said he isn’t yet able to disclose the business that is planning to use the J.C. Penney’s building.

“As we hopefully are able to put that together, I think the community is going to be excited,” he said.

“It’s going to be a great use down here, and it’s just one more piece of the puzzle that I think will allow all of us to continue to kind of build off of and just have a neat downtown experience when we come here to hang out.”

The Henry on Main website shows 2-bedroom, 2-bath units of about 1,100 square feet listed for $1,639 a month. One-bedroom units that range from 534 to 855 square feet list between $1,219 and $1,489. There is some dedicated parking available.

“You’re not going to have this kind of glass size, this kind of view, these kind of ceiling heights, exposed beams, internal brick in newer buildings,” Abraham said. “They’re special units.”