Johnson City Press Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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Whether cultural or economic, city, area poised for advances

March 29th, 2014 9:33 pm by Nathan Baker

Whether cultural or economic, city, area poised for advances

Johnson City and its surrounding communities, from the I-81/26 interchange to the mountainous state line, are poised to make great advances in the coming years, giving leaders and residents “Faith in the Future.”

Johnson City itself is preparing for an economic resurgence driven by expanding industrial opportunities, according to Washington County Economic Development Council CEO Mitch Miller.

In hopes of diversifying the city’s economy, which for years has been based mainly on health care and higher education, the WCEDC staff has been actively marketing the handful of empty industrial sites dotting the city, and hopes to soon sell all of those with more than 100,000 square feet to interested businesses.

“We could be in a position where we have no more buildings over 100,000 square feet available to show these businesses,” Miller said. “With all the activity coming in, we will definitely want to look at developing more parks to help us diversify our base.”

Millions of public and private dollars have also been spent on the city’s downtown to rehabilitate aging buildings, solve persistent flooding problems and improve the flow of traffic.

The results of the reinvestment can be seen in the new businesses set to open downtown and the dozens of units of residential housing that have opened recently, Miller said.

“We are definitely making a lot of progress,” he said. “We’re moving in the right direction, and we’ve got a lot of great things in store for the next five to 10 years.”

To the west, Jonesborough is concentrating on reaffirming its historic identity, while improving the quality of life for its residents and visitors.

The historic Main Street will soon be restructured to conceal the utility lines, improving the streetscape aesthetically.

A new senior center on Longview Drive is rising out of the ground, and a new farmers market in the former Exxon fuel station on Main Street is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The town is also improving health and recreational opportunities by expanding the Persimmon Ridge Linear Trail, connecting it to the downtown area and improving the park at its trailhead.

To the east of Johnson City, Elizabethton is also awaiting the completion of a major recreation trail connecting the two communities.

The Tweetsie Trial, along a defunct railroad bed, has already seen some major work to level the surface and remove litter from nearby and crews will soon improve bridges and prepare the 8-mile trail for its official opening.

Elizabethton city leaders hope the demolition of the years vacant North American Rayon powerhouse will usher in a new surge in development along West Elk Avenue and the Watauga River.

The city plans to create a tax increment financing district in the area to help fund future projects.

With the renewed interest from investors, Elizabethton hopes to rebuild its downtown and provide new residential opportunities there.

Elizabethton Planning Director Jon Hartman said the next few years could bring improvements funded by fees from property owners in the downtown business district.

To the south, the communities of Erwin and Unicoi are bringing in investments of their own.

Erwin’s downtown revitalization is entering Phase II, a $2 million project to improve the streetscape, utilities and stormwater drainage.

“Before I ever came here, I was excited about this place,” Erwin Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said. “Because if a town is not investing in itself, how do we expect the businesses and the residential community to progress and expand and grow?”

Railyard Park is soon to be completed and Fishery Park is in for some upgrades. A Downtown Trail Connector will soon join with the Erwin Linear Trail.

To help attract new business, the South Industrial Drive upgrade project, being undertaken by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, should be out to bid in May.

Unicoi is planning to break ground soon on a Mountain Harvest Community Kitchen, where residents will be able to process their own food. The new center is slated to be built adjacent to the town’s Visitor Information Center.

Mountain States Health Alliance is also expected to break ground on the new Unicoi County Memorial Hospital, which county leaders believe will help create new employment opportunities for residents.

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