Article by: Debra McCown
March 10, 2013
Kingsport-When John and Angela Vachon first came to Kingsport, it was in search of a house for a relative. They didn't find a house, but they did wind up buying a long-vacant commercial building - and then they bought the empty building across the street. It was the beginning of their business in Kingsport - and an important step in the city's downtown revitalization effort.
"We started in Downtown Kingsport in 2004, and things have really taken off," said Angela. "We're really excited about where it is today."
Now the couple owns several downtown buildings - all rehabilitated in a modern style that maintains the old buildings' historic charm - and their business, Urban Synergy, continues in the efforts to revitalize Downtown Kingsport.
Through Urban Synergy the Vachons not only buy and fix up their own buildings for lease or re-sale, but they also offer consulting, design and building rehabilitation services for other downtown property owners.
"We basically go and gut the building and put in all new infrastructure," Angela said. "Our goal is to highlight what is beautiful and minimize what is not."
So far they've renovated over 100,000 square feet of space in Downtown Kingsport, John said - and their downtown loft apartments have been so popular that right now there's a waiting list. They also own a swanky urban event venue called BANQ, a downtown banquet facility with a roof deck in a historic bank building on the corner of Broad and Center streets.
"Urban Synergy is very dynamic because our overall goal is downtown redevelopment," Angela said.
John said, "We try to raise the bar with everything we do."
The Vachons' homegrown success story is also a homegrown love story. Both grew up in Kingsport, and they met for the first time by chance - years before they connected in Knoxville as a couple.
"I worked in a dental office for 10 years...and this really cute patient came in..." Angela begins the story.
They met again in Knoxville in the emergency department at St. Mary's Medical Center, when they were both working as emergency room technicians. He had just graduated from the University of Tennessee and was applying to medical school; she had just transferred from East Tennessee State University with hopes of pursuing a career as a dentist or physician assistant.
He opted not to attend medical school; instead, he returned to the Tri-Cities to take a job as an orthopedic surgical sales representative - and she followed. They were married in 1999. Urged by their landlord to buy the house they were renting in Johnson City, they took what seemed like a monumental step - they bought their first house.
In 2001 they bought another house which, like the first one, they gutted and renovated. Then they sold it and, with the help of a saved jar of pennies and yard sale proceeds, they scrapped together a down payment on a lake lot, which they re-sold for 65,000 more than they'd paid. That money became the down payment on a commercial building in downtown Johnson City.
Angela recalls the uncertainty they has when a local restaurateur convinced them; "We were thinking, 'Can we really buy a building?'"
Despite a structural engineer saying he wouldn't even inspect the building, they went ahead and bought it - a project that required peeling back layer after layer to reach its structural bones. John said they learned a lot from that building - including the fact that, with several different types of space, a building isn't forced to be 100 percent occupied to help pay for itself.
The day they bought their first building in Kingsport, they had come in search of a house for Angela's mother. They decided to check out what was Downtown, and the rest is history.
"We got so excited, we got on the phone and started calling all our friends and family," Angela said. "Between all of us, we bought 20 buildings."
Today, Angela said, they view Downtown Kingsport much like they did then: "Full of unlimited potential."
"I think the biggest thing that's driving us is we love what we do and we're passionate about Downtown," she said. "We love taking an old building and making it beautiful again."