Downtown is open for business

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM

In the past few years, business has been booming in downtown Johnson City, with new restaurants and offices popping up all the time, which is good news for real estate in the area.

And there’s still room to grow, as there are several vacant spaces in downtown and the immediate area.

After selling the JW Hunter building in the 200 block of East Main Street in February, Shannon Castillo of Mitch Cox Realtor is optimistic about the future of business and culture in the downtown area.

Castillo said she has big hopes for what will come of the properties she is now leasing. The buildings for lease include the vacant property next to Olson’s Martial Arts on Cherry Street, the vacant building next to Silverball City on Tipton Street and the empty building next to Angry Penguin and The River on West Main Street.

Though she is not yet sure what the new properties will be used for, she did hint that there may be a new venue coming to town soon. Castillo said she is excited to see what the new operators of the buildings do with the properties. The possibilities still remain open.

“I'm personally excited about it and I think it'll be really great for downtown,” Castillo said. “Downtown is open for business and we’re waiting for other people to continue to get involved.”

The downtown area still has some obvious spots for improvement. The former Memorial Hospital property at West Fairview Avenue and Boone Street stands vacant and halfway demolished after a failed senior living venture left there in 2015. The adjacent Bowman Clinic building is available for lease.

And a highly visible landmark on Buffalo Street, one of downtown’s oldest structures — a former bank erected in the 1880s — remains vacant and in dire need of remodeling. The adjacent restaurant space was most recently home to Buffalo Street Downtown.

Developers already have taken on some of downtown’s biggest eyesores, though. On each side of the JW Hunter building, both the former Betty Gay and Liberty Theater structures, which recently were just shells, are amid renovations. Two side-by-side bank buildings on East Main near Spring Street also are also being remodeled into business and residential space.

Dianna Cantler, downtown development manager for the Washington County Economic Development Council, said an increasing population and a growing downtown community helped drive business trends in the area.

“If you look at the numbers we've had more than a dozen that have opened in the past two years. And it seems to only be increasing,” Cantler said. “A lot of it is the number of people that are coming to downtown, coming to live here, and enjoying all of the things downtown has to offer.”

Johnson City’s flood mitigation efforts involving King and Brush creeks also had a major hand in downtown’s resurgence, including the development of Founders Park and the soon-to-open King Commons park.

Castillo, who held Cantler’s position before moving to Mitch Cox, has been a downtown business owner for almost a decade now, running Spark Plaza with her husband, Jose Castillo, in the space above Freiberg's German Restaurant.

She said she’s noticed more and more life coming into the downtown area since first getting involved in its business scene. Back then, according to Castillo, there just wasn’t as much going on in the area.

“My husband and I have owned a business for eight years since before people wanted to be downtown,” Castillo said. “But now, things are going in a positive direction.”

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