City pushes forward with stormwater improvements, farmers market

Gary B. Gray • Oct 31, 2012 at 3:56 PM

The last of four buildings purchased by the city from Free Service Tire Co. owner Lewis Wexler began to fall underfoot Friday when Public Works Department employees started demolition of the former industrial tire recapping warehouse.

“We’ll take that to the ground to make way for the proposed farmer’s market,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works Department director. “The Washington County Economic Development Council has picked a preliminary design, and a construction design will likely come out of that. But nothing is set in stone.”

Asbestos abatement has been completed by a private contractor at the Wilson Avenue site, but the demolition is an in-house undertaking that should be complete in a few weeks.

Pindzola and other city officials have been eyeballing the spot for some time as an area that will compliment Founder’s Park, the $4.5 million flood mitigation creation that has morphed into an aesthetically pleasing avenue for Brush Creek with greenspace, landscaping and an amphitheater — at least on paper.

The new farmer’s market would tie in to Founder’s Park and expand public space that could be used for downtown events and other uses. Officials are considering closing off the section of Wilson Avenue that now divides the northeastern tip of the park and the farmer’s market to use for pedestrian traffic.

Wexler’s original asking price for four properties and relocation expenses was about $1.7 million. After further negotiations, he dropped the price to about $816,000 — less than half as much as his original request. The City Commission eventually voted to pay him about $615,000 for the package, excluding Wexler’s office building at the corner of Wilson and Buffalo Street.

On Oct. 18, the City Commission approved a $2.8 million bid by Johnson City’s Thomas Construction Co. to build the 5-acre Founder’s Park, which long ago was deemed necessary to help alleviate flooding problems at various sections of Brush Creek.

“The contract calls for a nine-month construction window,” Pindzola said. “We’re in the process now of securing all the permits. I’m not sure about a specific start date, but we expect it to begin within 90 days.”

Meanwhile, demolition of six downtown buildings bounded by West Market and West Main streets and North Boone and Montgomery streets, has wrapped up. The city purchased these properties as part of their long-term flood mitigation plan on which King Creek eventually will be rerouted.

“We were going to depress (lower) the land in some way to capture water coming down King and Market streets, but we haven’t taken a look to see if there’s a spring there or possibly an old basement,” he said. “We’ll begin peeling back the concrete, perhaps in December. There’s nothing permanent planned for that area, but it will be used to relocate King Creek.”

City workers will remove the concrete so the area can be properly surveyed and documented. However, the concrete will go. Instead, sod will be laid down over the entire area and grass will be all that’s visible until the new design of how the creek will make its way through is complete. That, of course, will be followed by City Commission approval of any construction.

In any event, that work ties into another piece of the stormwater puzzle that would allow for some high-water relief in the area: U-Haul.

Not only is the U-Haul property the gathering place of a large ration of downtown flood water, it also is a legal focal point. The company continues to fight the city over its condemnation of the property in Washington County Circuit Court.

U-Haul’s 114 W. King St. location would be the center of what is being called the Event Commons. The King Creek detention basin would be built on this site and tie into the city’s in-house project at McClure Street.

So far, Judge Thomas Seeley has heard two days of testimony in a possessory hearing that will resume Nov. 5. The city offered U-Haul about $820,000 for the property. But company representatives have said that amount was not what the property was worth.

In court, attorneys for the company are claiming the city’s condemnation of the property is meant more to propagate economic development than flood relief.

The city also purchased WW Cab. Co., which is near the U-Haul location. The company, which has been at 128 Commerce St. since 1997, accepted the city’s offer for the property and help with its new location at 321 W. Main St., just more than three blocks away.

“We have until Dec. 1 to move out, according to our agreement,” said Susan Hawkins, the company’s manager. “We should be out about mid-November, and we’re hoping it’s a smooth transition. We’re getting everything in place. When we move, everything will stay the same. When we end the day shift at the current location, we’ll begin the night shift at the new location.”

Cutshall’s Automotive, a former machine shop that was located next door to U-Haul, has been purchased and demolished in anticipation of combining that property with the soon-to-be former WW Cab site and U-Haul on which the detention basin would be located.

One other element that could eventually help downtown flooding appears to be on hold.

The city wants to buy what is commonly referred to as the old Johnson City Furniture Store at 133 W. Main St. The city wants to demolish the structure, make repairs to a decrepit Brush Creek culvert lying underground and to use the lot for downtown parking.

“We’ve run into issues with obtaining the deed,” Pindzola said.

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