Johnson City Press Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Update: U-Haul picks old Lowes/Fun Expedition site

April 16th, 2014 8:43 am by Gary B. Gray

Update: U-Haul picks old Lowes/Fun Expedition site

A provision in a 2013 deal with the city of Johnson City to add $90,000 to the property value at the U-Haul site at 114 King St. expired on April 1. (Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)

U-Haul has decided to stay in Johnson City.

Joan Fried, the company’s director of media and public relations, told the Johnson City Press Tuesday it will relocate its downtown business at 114 W. King St. to the former Lowe’s and Fun Expedition site at 2805 N. Roan St.

“We haven’t closed on it yet, but we anticipate doing so by the end of this month,” Fried said.

The news comes about two weeks after a provision in Johnson City’s agreement to purchase the downtown U-Haul property went into effect, reducing the city’s financial commitment on two distinct offers by $10,000 each month until the company vacates its location.

It now appears U-Haul will be moving soon, averting an ongoing financial loss and side-stepping a Dec. 31 drop-dead date which could have meant eviction by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“When we first started talking to them, we suggested this location,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “This means first and foremost that a long-standing business is going to stay in the city. For that we’re happy and thankful. It will take some time for them to relocate, and they have until the end of the year.”

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

Since that time, Johnson City has had legal access to the large, low-lying, but strategically important, 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.

“That’s a great place for them, and it has room for lots of storage,” said Public Works Director Phil Pindzola. “If we get the property before the rains get heavy, we will go through the demolition process and then open up the creek. It would allow the water to move and provide additional storage, meaning it would have somewhere to go other than downtown streets.”

Negotiations and lots of pencil sharpening resulted in an agreement in which U-Haul, if so inclined, would get $910,000 for the property — $90,000 more than the city-appraised $820,000 that has been sitting in Circuit Court for the taking.

U-Haul hired a certified Nashville appraiser to evaluate the property’s worth. The finding: $1 million.

In April 2013, Eric Herrin, an attorney representing the city, offered city commissioners two options, and both made it into the final agreement. The first option basically split the difference between the company’s appraisal and the city’s offer, subject to relocation within Johnson City’s corporate limits — which U-Haul apparently plans to do.

The $910,000 offer came with a caveat requiring a $10,000 per month reduction in price beginning 30 days after the April 1 effective date.

Herrin’s second option kept the price at $820,000 but mandated the company relocate outside the corporate limits. The time lines and penalty payments stayed the same.

The city has been granted an “Order of Possession” by the court, but city officials say they will not exercise that right until the company has had sufficient time to relocate. However, when Dec. 31 rolls around, the city will give the company notice to close the transaction and vacate the property if it has not done so.

On Jan. 29, 2013, Judge Seeley granted U-Haul the right to have his decision reviewed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville. However, the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals denied that request.

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