Stormwater projects intended to spur downtown Johnson City growth

Gary B. Gray • Jun 11, 2012 at 10:15 AM

Johnson City is ready to issue up to $5 million in bonds to complete three projects in its $30 million long-range flood mitigation plan, meant not only to move floodwaters away from downtown but also to entice residents, visitors, developers and private investment to come in.

The plan originated nearly 10 years ago when heavy downtown flooding prompted the formation of a Storm Water Advisory Task Force and later the Downtown Storm Water Task Force. The result was the targeting of each major drainage basin downtown and in 2007 the establishment of a stormwater fee to help pay for the opening up and rerouting of King and Brush creeks and the creation of public, pedestrian-friendly green space to complement the work.

Three of eight projects are in play, and each is intended to relieve flooding, improve aesthetics, give downtown more of an identity and to catch the eye of private investors. On the periphery, one in-house project that will tie in to these others has been completed and another is just around the corner.

“I think the private sector has to respond to the public infusion of millions of dollars, and we’re getting hints of that,” said Phil Pindzola, the city’s Public Works director. “You have to do something to catch the water, but we’re also trying to get the private sector involved so we can do more upstream. We’re also creating an image that’s in the best interest of the community as a whole which would then give Johnson City a different identity.”

The $4.5 million Founders Park project along West State of Franklin Road has turned into a bit more than the opening up of Brush Creek. It has morphed into a multi-functional piece of city-owned land meant to both help flooding problems and give citizens and visitors a pleasing place to walk or just take a break.

Bids are out and construction could begin next month. Construction is estimated to cost roughly $3 million. Acquisition and design costs total an additional $1.5 million.

Knoxville’s Lamar Dunn & Associates has designed a park/retention facility that stretches from Sevier Street to Wilson Avenue. The city plans to let the public submit suggestions for the final naming of what has been known as Warehouse Commons and Founders Park — a project identified years ago by the city’s Storm Water Task Force and the Economic Development Council as necessary to help alleviate flooding problems at various sections of Brush Creek.

The project includes opening up Brush Creek, which will flow through the center of the park, and includes a waterfall and pond. On-street parking is planned for Lamont Street and there will be several locations that may end up supporting public art.

Bike racks, a drinking fountain, an information kiosk and benches are planned for an entrance at the intersection of Wilson and Lamont. These amenities also will be offered at the intersection of Sevier and West State of Franklin Road, and a fence will separate the nearby railroad track from the park. Walkways, a bridge crossing the creek, a large greenspace and landscaping also are planned.

The King Creek retention pond is the next step. This project, dubbed the Event Commons for now, will be centered on what is now the U-Haul property at 114 W. King St. The company is fighting the city’s condemnation of its downtown property for use as a much larger stormwater project. The property’s value was established at $820,000 based on an independent appraisal, but U-Haul rejected the offer.

The area would temporarily be used to construct a large detention pond to catch floodwater from King Creek. Plans are to eventually create an open creek that will run through the middle of the area, where greenspace and storefronts for businesses also would be created.

This downtown property will tie into the city’s completed in-house project at McClure Street, where a basin was constructed. The overall plan in this part of town is to catch and distribute overflow from King Creek that has caused flooding for years. An amphitheater has been looked at as a possibility, and city leaders are pushing hard to close several streets and increase pedestrian use.

Finally, a third and quick-moving project is the King Creek surface retention pond project. The City Commission is expected to look at the final negotiated settlement prices for six properties involved that are slated for demolition as soon as procedural maneuvers have run their course.

The properties include Commissioner Jane Myron’s former property at 200 W. Market St., which is going through the appraisal and condemnation process like all other purchases. Other properties on West Market include 204, 210 and 214. Another property at 102 Montgomery St. also has been appraised.

It should be noted the city also is purchasing the old Essex building, and the estimated total cost for these properties is about $723,000.

The city’s stormwater plan includes removing these structures to provide retention areas that could hold runoff and let it flow into a lower portion of the creek. In the long term, the city will open these areas up and create a larger scale project that will include the U-Haul property.

So far, all money spent has come from stormwater fee revenues.

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