Johnson City board considering new business district to help fund downtown growth

Nathan Baker • Updated Nov 11, 2017 at 12:03 AM

Hoping to replace lost revenue, the Johnson City Development Authority is considering forming a new district downtown to help fund its business programs using fees from property owners.

At the board’s September meeting and again Friday, chair Robert Williams spoke of creating a central business improvement district, through which downtown commercial and industrial property owners would opt to pay a separate fee with their city taxes.

Next year, revenue from the authority’s lease with Northeast State Community College for the college’s downtown campus will drop from $22,740 per month to $1,000, leaving them with $260,000 less per year.

Williams said the special district could help make up for some of the lost funding.

“It’s something that’s not new to the South, and it’s not new to Tennessee,” Williams said. “Knoxville, Clarksville, Nashville, Memphis all have them. We have not approached all of the cities, but we’ve investigated several of them.”

Williams said Knoxville’s central business improvement district helped develop the city’s popular Market Square, an area in the downtown core now densely populated with restaurants and retail stores.

Knoxville’s central business improvement district was established in 1993 and has its own board of directors, one each appointed by the speakers of the state Senate and House of Representatives, one by the city mayor and eight elected by property owners within the district.

If the Johnson City authority does decide to create such a district, Downtown Development Director Dianna Cantler said the board may expand to add more downtown property owners.

Jamie Dove, who owns property and a business in downtown Johnson City, said Friday he’s not opposed to the new fee.

“If the money’s used well, then it could be a good thing,” he said. “My impression of the job (the JCDA) has done thus far is a very good one. Any time they have anything to bring to the table, because of their past track record and the relationships I have with a lot of those people, I have an open mind.”

Also at Friday’s meeting, the authority board learned since 2008, when the downtown tax increment financing district was created, the tax base has increased 53 percent, from $166.3 million to $253.7 million, a gain board members attributed to the body’s good management practices over the past nine years.

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