Tim P. Jones had a grand vision for downtown Johnson City. As a native of the city, he wanted to see the downtown area follow other urban areas, such as Savannah, Ga., and Greenville, S.C., in revitalization efforts that spurred development and future growth.
Tim died in June after a lengthy bout with cancer. He managed the Johnson City Press for nearly a quarter century, and was instrumental in paving the way for many developments happening now in the downtown area.
Rather than sit back and watch her late husband’s dream for a thriving downtown disappear, Valda Jones has decided to assume Tim’s role as chief operating partner of the Urban Redevelopment Alliance, a leasing and sales agent for a number of downtown properties.
“Tim and I were just getting ready to embark on our lives traveling and that kind of got cut short, but consequently I’m going to have a lot more time than I’ve had in my adult life to give to something, and I can’t imagine anything better than seeing his dreams come true and carrying it through and see our grandchildren and the community’s children see a downtown Johnson City that thrives and is a family-friendly environment,” she said.
The Joneses had a strong commitment to the redevelopment of downtown, albeit from slightly different avenues.
Valda, who was born in Kingsport, has served on Johnson City’s Historic Zoning Commission for a number of years.
Among his many civic contributions, which included acting as chairman of the East Tennessee State University Foundation from 2003-07, Tim was also a founding member of the Johnson City Development Authority and served as organization’s first chairman.
“Tim was born here and his love of downtown was heartfelt from that standpoint. Mine is more from the preservation of the city, and we both wanted to see it develop,” Valda said.
The decision to continue in Tim’s footsteps was made the night of Tim’s visitation, as Valda met with several close friends.
“As I saturated my loss and feelings, I told them that night that with their support, I felt that I wanted to see Tim’s dreams come true downtown,” she said.
Valda, who comes from a real estate background, plans to reinstate her license as she takes the reigns of URA.
URA has been in operation since 2002, focusing mostly on a managing a mixture of retail and housing properties.
Tim’s involvement with several partnerships helped spur the renovation of several historic buildings in the downtown area into apartment complexes, including turning the old Hannah building into a four-story luxury loft residential building and developing the 14-unit Olde Towne Lofts at South Roan Street.
In addition to handling those properties, URA also has an extensive reach through the downtown area in the form of the office space in the King’s Centre and a number of commercial spaces along Main and Roan streets.
In recent months, the downtown area itself has seen a considerable amount of development, pointing to potential revitalization of what was once the heart of Johnson City.
The biggest development to hit the city was Tupelo Honey Cafe’s announcement last month to open its fourth location at the historic CC&O Railroad Depot by fall 2013.
The Asheville, N.C.-based restaurant’s announcement comes on the heels of several new businesses opening downtown and the renovation of one of the old buildings along Spring Street, which now houses The Battery, a gourmet restaurant.
In terms of infrastructure, the city of Johnson City is in the midst of its $30 million flood mitigation plan, which has led to major development over the last several years, particularly in the Tipton Street area. And the Washington County Economic Development Council has unveiled a detailed downtown revitalization strategy, which includes a new farmers market area and creating a greater ETSU presence downtown.
With those positive changes taking place, Valda said she believes downtown Johnson City is on the cusp of transforming into a vibrant and thriving part of the community.
One of the other recent developments is related to Main Street Partners LLC, one of Tim’s partnerships with former Wilson Pharmacy owner Guy Wilson and Summers-Taylor Inc.’s Rab Summers.
The group has plans to construct a $2 million-plus, three-story, 25-unit apartment complex on the corner of South Roan Street and State of Franklin Road.
Those apartments will be named Paxton Place in honor of Tim, and Valda said the group hopes to break ground within the next month.
“Hopefully, they will be completed by the middle of next year. We’ve been meeting and reviewing the plans and trying to determine and decide if we’re going to have common space and how user-friendly that is,” she said.
The plan is to demolish the former Plasma Biological Services building, which Main Street Partners owns, to make way for the complex. The planned building will include a rooftop deck, outdoor seating areas, an elevator, interior and exterior gardens and a space that could be used as a coffee shop.
With her involvement with URA and the drive to see downtown Johnson City really turn around in terms of development, Valda said she is able to cope with her husband’s death in a more proactive way.
She already had the drive from the preservation perspective, but now Valda wants to ensure that Tim’s work and vision for downtown continues to move forward with the developments that are under way in the downtown area.
“He was willing to put his wallet where his mouth was when nobody else was willing to go out on a limb and invest in downtown. It just breaks my heart, but hopefully he can look down and see the seeds that he planted in beloved downtown Johnson City flourish and bloom into beautiful trees and flowers,” she said. “I’ll see his face and heart in every brick and mortar on the street.”