Lot 1 may be key to ETSU, Public Building Authority negotiations

Nathan Baker • Jan 22, 2014 at 9:24 PM

Negotiations between East Tennessee State University and Johnson City for the land where the college hopes to build a performing and fine arts center are apparently hinging on parking access and floodwater plans, but the members of the Public Building Authority wonder if some of its property may end up thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Authority Chairman Mike Eddy told the board’s members at Wednesday’s regular meeting that a recent conversation he and Millennium Centre staff had with City Manager Pete Peterson and Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin indicated ETSU’s interest in Lot 1, a vacant tract between the center and the nearby Bank of Tennessee, had heated up in the past month, but said the city may be considering including other property along West State of Franklin Road as part of the negotiations.

“Apparently in the next six months, a lot of things are going to come open,” Eddy said. “They’re very interested in working with the performing arts center, but size is a big issue.”

ETSU President Brian Noland has long favored Lot 1 as the best site for the proposed arts center, a teaching and performance building with a 1,200- to 1,500-seat auditorium, a recital hall and an art gallery.

Yet the negotiations have dragged on, even after the State Building Commission approved $1.1 million for the school to purchase the land.

In a press conference last week, Noland said the conversations with the city centered on two issues: pedestrian safety and flood control.

If students, faculty and members of the community are going to be using the facility frequently, there should be a safe way for them to cross the heavily-trafficked West State of Franklin Road, namely a traffic light, Noland said then.

But ETSU may also be considering taking ownership of the access-troubled Lot 8 to build a parking lot, Eddy said.

“They (Peterson and Van Brocklin) insinuated they wanted to put marketing Lot 8 on hold as a board,” he said. “ETSU really wants Lot 8, apparently.”

Lot 8, the empty space between Regions Bank and Ruby Tuesday, has stymied the PBA for years. The property doesn’t have direct access from any nearby road, and has seen a number of potential sales fall through because of it.

Eddy said he believed the city leaders are considering donating or selling Lot 8 and the courtyard adjacent to the Millennium Centre to the university as part of the price for Lot 1.

Reached by phone Wednesday after the PBA’s meeting, ETSU spokesman Joe Smith said that the university had “no plans to purchase Lot 8.”

If the city does decide to give away some of the properties, which would require approval by the PBA, the authority and the Millennium Centre, which has been surviving for a while on the revenues from land sales along State of Franklin, could lose potential funding, leading it to need more subsidies than expected from the city.

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