Officials put the final piece of the deal to bring Northeast State Community College to downtown Johnson City in place on Wednesday.
Northeast State President Janice Gilliam signed a five-year lease with the Johnson City Development Authority for use of the Downtown Centre, which the JCDA purchased from Washington County for $1 million just last week.
Wednesday’s signing ceremony completed a more than year-long process in which state, county and city officials and entities completed several steps necessary to bring the community college campus to the former county courthouse in downtown.
The JCDA obtained a $2 million loan from Eastman Credit Union to finance its $1 million purchase of the Downtown Centre and its up to $1 million contribution for interior renovations of the building. Washington County sold the building to the JCDA, and the state approved Northeast State’s renovating and leasing the building for a Washington County teaching site.
“I am as excited as can be. This has been a long time coming,” Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Wednesday. “We started a conversation in March 2010 about this possibility. From that point, to where we are today, boy, it seems like a long time.”
Eldridge said the opportunities for students in Washington County have now expanded.
“I’m more thrilled for the students of Washington County than I am anything,” he said. “This will do more to advance the opportunities for young people than anything else we could do. I’m excited to see where we will be 10 years from now because of this.”
JCDA Chairman Robert White also highlighted the benefits of a higher education campus in downtown Johnson City.
“Higher ed plays a key in work force development, which is a key part in recruiting industries and creating jobs,” he said.
White made sure to thank some of the players in the deal, including Washington County, Johnson City, Eastman Credit Union, state Rep. Matthew Hill, Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe, the Washington County Economic Development Council and Northeast State.
Gilliam said the county, city, and downtown should expect to see the student population at the downtown campus grow quickly, and with that, a return on the community’s investment.
“It is all about the students, but it’s also about a return on investment,” she said. “For that $2 million investment, I think our last study said a 5.5 percent return on interest for every dollar spent.”
She said she expects between 100-300 students to start in the fall, and that number could quickly grow to 1,000.
“I hope I’m coming to you and saying, ‘We need more parking and we need more room,’ ” she said. “Those are good problems.”