One area that always seems to be a concern is parking, although there are probably more parking spaces in and around downtown than ever before.
“So we still have this mentality in Johnson City that we need to see where we’re going.....when we park we want to see the front door,” said Dianna Cantler, downtown development director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership and the Johnson City Development Authority.
“It’s the same people who think nothing of going into a parking garage in Asheville and walking two blocks,” to get where they’re going, she said.
“People think we (Johnson City) aren’t that big, so they think they should be able to park right in front,” she said. “But we are that big. We don’t have a parking problem, we have a walking problem because people still don’t want to walk two blocks. I don’t think it’s a safety thing. Ithink it’s just this mentality that we’re a small town and I shouldn’t have to park and then walk. We’re past that time.”
Cantler said there’s a new parking lot on Spring Street past Southern Craft restaurant, but people don’t know its there because of poor signage. The city recently allocated funds to install signs directing visitors to that lot, which Cantler said will help alleviate drivers searching for a spot. There is also parking available in the Northeast State Community College parking garage, but it’s limited to weekends and a few spots during the week.
“We’ve got the parking lot at Northeast State. It’s open all weekend for free parking. There’s great lighting inside there, and we’re actually looking at the option to add an exterior elevator,” and hope that would help people be more willing to park in there and walk to their destination, she said.
“We’re looking at ways for people to think we’re not that small town anymore. We need to get used to walking. Another part of that is we do not have good wayfinding signage to identify the parking.
“One of the other things is we’re really concentrating on is how can we support the creative class,” Cantler said. “New businesses that start up don’t start up with 25 employees. They start with one or two partnering together, and then it grows.
“One of the other things is I really have been in discussion with some of the folks from the city and ETSU about what can we do to keep the people graduating from ETSU to stay here — specifically from the digital media program. What can we do to keep them here in Johnson City and them not have to go work in Atlanta or Charlotte or Seattle or California.
“We’ve been looking at and trying to figure out what it is that we need to create so that those folks would have the opportunity to stay here.That’s a priority for our economic vitality committee with the JCDA. We’ve submitted two grants for some projects, and I’ve been to other places where they’ve created an artist community space that also has a digital artist component to it,” Cantler said. “We’re looking and seeing what we can come up with and hopefully get us some grant money to help fund it.”
The JCDA holds a nine-week Co-Starters class that helps potential business owners learn more about how to get their idea off the ground.
“I’m hoping there will be some folks who have decided their business idea is viable and will look at opening downtown,” she said..
Another thing Cantler works on is getting downtown businesses to stay open later than 5 p.m.
“It comes down to decisions individual retailers or business owners make,” she said. “We can only do so much to encourage them to stay open later, but I think the ones that do stay open to 6 or 7 on some nights see the value and know that there’s a lot of foot traffic downtown. We encourage them to open at 10 or 11 and stay open to 6 or 7. It’s still eight hours, but it’s a different eight hours.”