According to Dianna Cantler, director of downtown development, there are two areas of focus when considering the business growth of the district – further establishing Johnson City as a booming “college town” and as a central hub for outdoor recreation.
“We want to continue the revitalization in the downtown district, but we want to be strategic in the way we’re moving forward,” Cantler said.
Cantler said the “increased foot traffic” in downtown Johnson City has made prospective business owners view the district as an attractive place to open bars, restaurants and other establishments, which could keep students busy; bring alumni back to visit or possibly relocate to the area; and allow ETSU students’ visiting families to have something to do in close proximity to the campus.
“Being a college town and embracing that means you’re reaching out to students, faculty and staff, and making sure we have stuff that will allow visiting families to have something to do when they’re visiting from out of town,” she said. “When alumni return to their alma mater, we want to think about what they see in Johnson City – and the downtown district in particular – that might make them want to come back and visit Johnson City again, or possibly relocate back to Johnson City when they retire.”
Now that some property owners are looking to renovate buildings that were once unusable, Cantler said she expects growth in local food establishments in the downtown area. She also expects to see three more retail businesses in the district and possibly even a couple “rooftop bars” on the upper floors of some of the buildings downtown.
“For a long time, a lot of buildings weren’t up to code, but now we have people renovating them and making them viable spaces for businesses,” she said.
Becoming a center between outdoor recreation attractions has been an increasingly important part of the development plan, according to Cantler. She said the district’s proximity to the campus and to trails such as the Tweetsie Trail and Tannery Knob bike trail, as well as being in relatively close proximity to the Nolichucky River, should help developers determine which establishments will thrive most in the area.
This connectivity to other attractions presents a lot of business opportunities, Cantler said.
“One thing we see happening is the district’s becoming a ‘base camp’ for outdoor tourism,” she said. “That gives us a focus when it comes time to recruit new businesses or see what amenities we need.”
This growth could further bolster the steady sales tax revenues the city as a whole has been seeing, which reported a 2.9 percent increase over the last fiscal year.
“It would be my opinion that probably one of the largest sales tax increases has occurred in the district in the last two years,” Cantler said. “We’ve got more businesses moving in, more people moving downtown generating a larger property tax revenue, so the tax revenue increase overall has probably been very significant.”
Cantler said she and other developers have been encouraging prospective business and property owners to take a look at incentives offered by the Johnson City Development Authority, which include low-interest loan programs, training programs for potential business owners, and initially reduced storefront leasing prices.
“We have several incentives and programs we can offer them, so if somebody is looking at opening a business, I really encourage them to call our office to meet with them to give them insight and direct them,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to add to the repertoire of that we have to offer.”