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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The dust is still being kicked up daily outside the former SunTrust Bank at 426 W. Walnut St. in Johnson City, but that doesn’t bother Sarah Morgan and Niki Giles.

The pair will share the 2,200-square-foot building that’s smack in the middle of Johnson City’s $34 million West Walnut Street revitalization project. Morgan, a physical therapist who just got a certificate of occupancy and opened Onward Physical Therapy, a cash-only, “fitness forward” practice, said the inconveniences of today aren’t a bother.

Partners Sarah Morgan and Niki Giles say they’re not a bit bothered by the ongoing work on West Walnut Street’s revitalization. (WJHL photo)

“We’re playing the long game,” she said, sitting in the newly appointed PT space with weight equipment behind her. “I feel like this area of town is just going to continue to develop and what’s happened downtown is going to push out this way. I love this community and just being down here, it feels like you’re very involved in that, so I’m excited to watch it grow.”

In fact, she and Giles were looking to lease somewhere in south Johnson City when they entered more serious discussions — buying the place, which they did in April.

“We see the West Walnut Street vision and are very happy to be a part of that,” Giles said.

Contractor Ernest Campbell, who retrofitted the physical therapy side, will do the same for Giles’s new business early next year. The quarters look tight, but Giles said the goal is a healthy drive-through that can get people fresh, locally sourced food quickly.

“We can focus on a simple menu with great ingredients,” said Giles, who plans to work with Science Hill High School’s culinary program to help train teenagers. “Keeping it simple and local and accessible. Accessibility is the name of the game.”

Giles expects to be handing meals out of what was once a teller drive-through by the spring.

The purchase, renovation and reuse is an example of what Johnson City leaders envisioned when they began discussions about a major West Walnut renovation years ago.

Several properties along the corridor have changed hands this year. At 724 W. Walnut, the former O.G. Kelley building sold for $400,000 in April, and the new owner recently tore one of the buildings down.

That a 1-acre lot is seen to be a good investment for demolition and rebuilding suggests investors are seeing value in the city’s project. The property sits in the second phase of the revitalization, meaning it will face ripped-up streets and the inconvenience of major infrastructure upgrades.

The new owner clearly thinks playing the long game there will be worth it as well, whether the new use is multifamily residential — buildings can go as high as four stories on the north side of Walnut — or commercial.

WHAT: Renovation of 2,231 square feet of a former bank into a physical therapy practice and a drive-through healthy dining business.

WHERE: 426 W. Walnut Street, Johnson City. Just east of Tennessee Hills Brewstillery.

WHO: Giles and Morgan LLC (owners of the two businesses Sarah Morgan and Niki Giles). Ernest Campbell Development is retrofitting the building.

WHEN: Building permit obtained July 2022. Phase I (physical therapy office) complete. Phase II completion expected in early 2023.