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Governor signs bill paving way for development off Exit 17

David Floyd • May 24, 2019 at 8:15 PM

Like adding a sledgehammer to the region’s economic tool box.

That’s how Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, described the impact of a recently approved retail development district during a breakfast meeting of the Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

“I cannot overstate how important this piece of legislation is,” Hill said “I truly believe for Washington County, Johnson City and Jonesborough, this legislation is a game changer.”

The bill, which proponents hope will produce a developed area along the Boones Creek corridor similar to The Pinnacle in Bristol, has now received the go-ahead from Gov. Bill Lee. Hill said the governor signed the bill into law on Friday.

The legislation is specifically designed to catalyze investment in a 950-acre stretch of land off Exit 17 along Interstate 26. Rep. Micah Van Huss and Sen. Rusty Crowe were two of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“Now it’s in the hands of Johnson City,” Hill said on Friday. The city will determine the precise location and boundaries of the 950-acre development district, Hill said, which will have to conform to the specific geographic guidelines of the legislation. Hill said the city will then send the plans to the state for certification.

Under the terms of the law, 75% of new sales tax revenue generated in the district will stay in the district to incentivize businesses over a 30-year period. Hill said this law will give new life to stretches of land that are not currently generating any revenue.

He said Wednesday that there’s already a potential employer looking at the exit, which could bring 200 jobs paying an average wage of $21 an hour.

Hill said the project also opens the doors for a potential funding windfall for schools in the Washington County and Johnson City school systems. “If the whole 950 acres are built out, and even if hits its minimal projections, our schools are going to do very, very well financially,” Hill said. 

In order to comply with the terms of the law, the district must draw one million visitors per year, produce at least $20 million in capital investment and generate $2 million per year in sales and use taxes.

Hill said Wednesday he anticipates the district will include options for retail, office space and mixed use development.

The roadway around Exit 17 will also be reconfigured in the coming months.

According to Press reporting on April 25, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has awarded a contract to Elizabethton-based company Summers-Taylor to transform that portion of I-26 into a “diverging diamond” configuration. Hill said the project has an estimated timeline of 18 months and construction will start this summer. 

“That means now, hopefully some of industries and employers that have spoken with the Chamber and with developers will be more willing to come there because that interchange will be fixed,” Hill said on Wednesday.

Mayor Jenny Brock said commissioners have talked a bit about the district and noted that City Manager Pete Peterson has been gathering information about the commission’s responsibilities to bring to the body in the near future.

“I think it’s certainly going to be an opportunity for additional growth, no two ways about it,” she said. She hopes the project brings new businesses to the region rather than shift businesses to that district from in-town.

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