Article by: Sharon Caskey Hayes
July 5, 2009
Kingsport-Once one of the finest buildings in Northeast Tennessee, the First National Bank at the corner of Broad and Center streets opened its doors in 1927, a massive three-story structure adorned with white marble walls and windows that spanned two stories high.
Now more than 80 years later, the building is getting a new lease on life - thank to John and Angela Vachon.
The husband and wife team and owners of redevelopment company Urban Synergy acquired the property just a few years ago and stated renovations on the 20,000-square-foot Building.
Today, the first floor is home to the law firm of Ross & Arthur while Bennett & Edwards is now located on the third floor.
But the second floor is the showpiece - a banquet hall featuring restored architectural details and grand sculptured windows designed to bring back the elegance of yesteryear.
Standing on Broad Street, John Vachon pointed to the second floor of the building, where huge lights cast a warm glow off the rust-colored ceiling.
"You can actually see a lot of the features from the street, especially at night," Vachon said.
The Vachons are nearing completion on the second floor banquet hall - they're calling it BANQ - a play on words for banquet hall and the building's bank beginnings. The space is now being booked for weddings, receptions, parties, conventions, corporate meetings and more. Four wedding receptions have already been booked.
"We envision a couple getting married at Church Circle, getting in a horse-drawn carriage and riding down to Broad Street to the banquet hall for the reception," John Vachon said. "Then after the reception the wedding party could explore downtown."
The second floor architectural details are impressive: restored arched windows, acid-stained concrete floors, thick molding and tall baseboards, and new solid wood doors made to look original to the building. Modern conveniences are evident, such as flat screen televisions mounted in various locations. But the building's history also shows through - such as an old dumbwaiter that doesn't work but makes a great conversation piece.
The main area can handle seating for about 200 people, while a separate room off to the side can seat another 40 to 50. That room can be rented separately from the great hall, or combined into one package.
The second level also features a warming kitchen that can be used for receptions and parties, as well as a coat check room large enough to store wedding gifts. Next to the coat check room is the audio-visual room, hidden behind a huge safe door that was salvaged from the old bank.
And the second level includes an upscale loft that can be rented on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The fully furnished loft includes the latest luxuries such as jacuzzi tub and stainless appliances.
The Vachons are also taking their work to the top of the building - they're installing a 2,500-square-foot roof deck for outside parties overlooking the downtown district.
John Vachon said the original plans for the bank building included eight stories in 1927, suggesting the architects were expecting Kingsport to become a major city.
"We have great bones to become a major metropolitan area if we concentrate on the downtown," John Vachon said. "Kingsport is just a diamond in the rough waiting to be discovered."
While the Vachons are finishing up renovations at the First National Bank building, they're in the middle of construction at the old Sterchi's building just a couple of doors down the block. The circa 1930 building previously housed Bennett & Edwards, and when the Vachons acquired the property, Bennett & Edwards moved to the third floor of the First National Bank building.
Today, construction crews are hard at work, building lofts on the second and third floors of the Sterchi's building. The second floor with contain five lofts, while the third level will hold four living spaces. The lofts will range in size from 950 square feet to 1,500 square feet. Prices will range from $950 to $1195 a month.
John Vachon said he's keeping the character of the old building by exposing ductwork, beams and brick when possible. And he's adding all the modern touches, from custom metal showers in some bathrooms to concrete kitchen countertops and stainless appliance.
Five of the lofts have already been rented, while four are still available.
Meanwhile Vachon said the first level of the Sterchi's building will house either retail or restaurant space.
The Vachons also have renovated the Progress Building next to the First National Bank building, and several other buildings as well.
"Our first rule - we always let the building dictate what it's going to be. That's why they have so much character," John Vachon said.
For more information on the bank building and banquet hall visit www.BANQDowntownKingsport.com.