Parking lot may be in Lot 8’s future

Nathan Baker • Aug 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Millennium Park’s ill-fated Lot 8 has little chance of commercial development, but officials think it could make a nice parking lot for a performing arts center planned by East Tennessee State University.

“I think it makes sense if you look at Lot 1 and the Bank of Tennessee property,” Johnson City Public Building Authority Chairman Mike Eddy said Wednesday at the board’s monthly meeting. “It will make an ‘L’ shape with those properties, and could work as additional parking for that new center.”

A handful of businesses, including Eastman Credit Union, Starbucks, a frozen yogurt shop and a hotel, have proposed building on the empty space on West State of Franklin Road between Regions Bank and Ruby Tuesday, but each time, prospective deals were stymied by the landlocked property’s lack of vehicle access.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation won’t allow direct access to the property from West State of Franklin because of traffic flow concerns, and Regions Bank neighboring to the west is hesitant to allow a right-of-way across its property that could interfere with customers leaving its drive-through tellers.

A creek behind Lot 8 could be bridged to give customers a way onto the property from Mountain Home Drive, but the Washington County Economic Development Council’s Mitch Miller said most commercial businesses want driveways out in front that are easy for customers to use.

“The key thing is they want a point of access that is noticeable, visible and makes sense,” he said.

But with ETSU’s expected purchase of Lot 1 next to the Millennium Center and the Bank of Tennessee, both owned by the bank, the board saw a way to market the property to an entity that didn’t need high visibility.

“I think the ideal situation would be if ETSU comes in, then they could make it a parking lot or whatever they need,” Eddy said.

But the idea hasn’t yet been officially floated to ETSU officials, he said, and the board will probably wait until the deal for Lot 1 is finalized before introducing the proposal.

“We have not attempted to contact them about that property, but from an outsider’s point of view, it seems to make sense for them,” Eddy said. “But I think we’re still a long way off from getting anything going.”

ETSU administrators have had their eyes on the Lot 1 property for years, but negotiations for its purchase didn’t start until recently.

If the college can reach a deal with Bank of Tennessee, and the agreed upon price is approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents, a fine and performing arts center will be built there for an estimated $38 million.

The school has already been approved to use $1.5 million to begin planning services for the center.

In August 2011, the PBA voted to end negotiations with Eastman Credit Union for the sale of Lot 8, because the financial institution demanded several access improvements, including a traffic signal at West State of Franklin and Harris Drive and either a road linking Harris to Mountain Home Drive or a curb cut to West State of Franklin.

Last year, developer Ball Realty Auction scrubbed its contract with the board for the property, citing canceled leases with prospective tenants because the access issues could not be solved.

“Mitch Miller has been marketing the property, and has had a lot of hits, but when it comes down to further details and you get to the access issue, they pull away,” Eddy said. “There’s a reason it’s one of the last lots available here.”

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