Johnson City Press Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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Founder’s Park part of city’s mitigation plan

January 2nd, 2014 9:40 pm by Gary B. Gray

Founder’s Park part of city’s mitigation plan

(Photos by Lee Talbert/ Johnson City Press)


A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Johnson City first settled on its roughly $30 million long-term flood mitigation plan and 2014 will be a year in which a big chunk of that plan is realized.


The 5-acre, $5 million Founder’s Park project along West State of Franklin Road is up next.


Founder’s Park, which eventually got its name from a public survey, was identified years ago by the city’s Downtown Stormwater Task Force and the Washington County Economic Development Council as necessary to help alleviate flooding problems at various sections of Brush Creek. 


But make no mistake, the park’s overall value to the community is much more than moving water.


“The nice thing about it is it’s open space for downtown, and I expect you’ll see a lot of people out and about here,” Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said Tuesday. “What people will have to do is adjust to the venue. It’s critical for downtown to have a place for events. Developers and existing businesses love it.”


Most people traveling along West State of Franklin or Sevier Street can easily see the new stone walls carrying water, landscaping and other improvements. This area certainly serves a purpose, but some of the more visual and useful components begin at the park’s midpoint and continue north, including cascading waterfalls. 


Five-ton stones support a channel and pipe that collects and deposits runoff from the Tree Streets into the creek at about the midway point, and the configuration is a bit imposing when you stand near it on a section of the park’s winding pathways.


Sidewalks circle the park, and visitors can enter the park at three main locations: Tipton Street, where underground utilities are going in and extra parking is being created; Sevier; and via a sidewalk that connects the coming Farmers Market and what used to be a section of Wilson Avenue. 


Tupelo Honey has donated art that will be placed at the two ends of the park, and there will be plazas at either end. Underground wiring has been installed at and around the new amphitheater and light poles are on the way that will illuminate a large area. The Johnson City Public Art Committee is very near the lease of 14 to 15 sculptures that will be positioned throughout the park.


At the end of the park nearest downtown, sidewalks encircle the amphitheater which includes a concrete stage roughly 30 feet in diameter below. A new bridge has been placed on the south side of the creek, and it’s easy to envision visitors standing there, on the sidewalks, on the new seawalls, on the new grass banks and in the amphitheater during various events. 


A bit more than opening up a creek, don’t you think.


Meanwhile, the long-vacant WW Cab Co. building will meet its demise this month, clearing the way for a large flood mitigation project downtown planned by city officials for years.


Johnson City’s Rainey Contracting was granted a contract by the city to demolish the building at 128 N. Commerce St. The bid includes construction of one new exterior wall for Campbell’s Morrell Music next door.


The city acquired the WW Cab property in 2012 and officials hoped to initiate a project that incorporated the U-Haul site into what will be a major stormwater project at perhaps the lowest point and problem flooding area downtown.


In June, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley signed an order ending a years-long legal tussle in which U-Haul claimed Johnson City was condemning and possessing its property primarily for financial benefit and not for a flood mitigation project meant to serve the public good.


The city now has legal access to the low-lying and strategically important U-Haul property — a piece of downtown property on which a flood relief project is planned that likely will result in aesthetic improvements and redevelopment opportunities when the fixes are complete.


U-Haul, which sits near the former cab site and just behind Morrell Music, has until April to find another location. If not, it must pay the city $10,000 for each month that the property remains occupied. However, if the company has not moved out by the end of 2014, it can legally be evicted.  


City Manager Pete Peterson said recently that he has not heard from the company.


Read the Johnson City Press Saturday to learn more about how state legislation may affect future annexation involving the city and county.


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