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JCDA chair vows to move ahead without county on John Sevier project

Nathan Baker • Mar 8, 2019 at 7:00 PM

After suffering a setback before the Washington County Commission, Johnson City Development Authority Chairman Robert Williams said the board is seeking other partners to help facilitate the redevelopment of the John Sevier Center.

A tied vote by county commissioners last week denied the JCDA’s proposal to use tax increment financing to buy and rehabilitate the 94-year-old downtown landmark, but Williams said the authority intends to pursue other public and private options for funding the ambitious plan without the county’s help.

Johnson City has other, similar entities dedicated to economic development and blight mitigation, and they could be brought into the discussions, he said.

“I think most Johnson Citians are in full support of the redevelopment of this building and seeing a new apartment complex built for the current residents of the Sevier Center,” Williams said after the JCDA’s monthly meeting Friday morning.

The commission’s vote fell along the city-county line, with the commissioners representing mostly unincorporated districts voting against the funding proposal, but Williams said redeveloping the aging apartment building should not be an issue pitting rural areas against urban.

“It would benefit all of Washington County, including Johnson City, to do this to increase property values and tax collection,” he said. “Residents all over, especially the people who live in the Sevier Center now, will come out ahead.”

Williams left the door open for a return to the commission to find out where Commission Chairman Greg Matherly’s tie-breaking vote would fall — Matherly was absent from the meeting last week — but made it clear that the JCDA was making plans that did not include the county.

In other news:

• The JCDA board approved sending a letter to the Johnson City Commission opposing a proposal to close off the pedestrian breezeway currently connecting the Downtown Square parking lot and Main Street.

The board originally intended to beautify the breezeway, and set money aside for the project, but structural problems with one of its brick walls put the plans on hold. Last month, city commissioners talked about enclosing the open-air walkway to create another building.

Board member Tracy Johnson said the walkway was a vital avenue between downtown businesses and nearby parking.

• Three organizations will receive JCDA funding for festivals this year.

The board approved $7,000 for the Blue Plum Festival, $4,500 for the Little Chicago Downtown Music & Arts Festival and $3,500 for the Umoja Unity Festival. Each received less than originally requested.

A new festival this year, the 90th Anniversary Celebration of the Johnson City Sessions, received no funding, although the organizers had requested $5,000.

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