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Building authority will continue after Millennium Centre sale, chair says

Nathan Baker • Sep 1, 2018 at 5:36 PM

With the Millennium Centre sold and all the land near it developed, the Johnson City Public Building Authority will soon be unburdened of its responsibilities, but board members hope it will take on a new charge to aid the city’s economic development.

Chairman Jon Smith said board representatives are set to meet with the city manager and city commissioners to discuss the future of the Public Building Authority. As a quasi-independent entity created by the state legislature, Smith said the authority could take on business ventures and own properties with less red tape than the city.

The authority was previously tasked with managing the operations of the Millennium Centre and developing the land near it, along West State of Franklin Road opposite East Tennessee State University.

Last month, however, the board and the city entered into an agreement to sell the convention center to the university for $5.8 million. ETSU leased classroom space in the center for its Digital Media program for years and is building a performing arts center next door.

The sale of the Millennium Centre follows the completion of the authority’s other task — the board sold the last vacant lot last year to restaurateur Tony Vella and his partners to build a new Cootie Brown’s, now under construction.

The building authority will still receive funding captured from the property, sales and privilege taxes generated by the businesses it helped develop and from rental income generated by ETSU’s lease of the post office on campus.

“The PBA was formed by a legislative act, and it has a life of its own, and an enormous bit of flexibility with things it can do in terms of the ability to generate revs, own property and issue bonds, not that we want to do all of those things,” Smith said Friday. “Looking at other cities that have PBAs, they have worked to facilitate economic development projects in those cities, and the feeling is it’s better type of organization for those things, because it is unencumbered, it is in itself a standalone unit.”

In Knoxville, for example, Smith said the public building authority purchases and develops properties to help further the city’s economic development goals.

Before discussing the long-term plans of the authority with city officials, Smith said he’s not sure where the board will focus its efforts, but “I can say it will really be a benefit to the community,” he said.

“I think the city has a long enough planning horizon to realize they want to keep this particular instrument in their toolbox.”

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