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JCDA looks at plan if COVID-19 comes to Sevier Center

Nathan Baker • Apr 1, 2020 at 9:00 AM

A few months ago, the Johnson City Development Authority’s board was navigating the steep learning curve of becoming the new owner of a rent-subsidized apartment building.

Now members are planning for an outbreak of a deadly disease.

Development Authority board member Joe Wise asked fellow members Tuesday to consider the eventuality that one of the John Sevier Center’s residents is diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Has management gone through scenarios of what to do when they get the first positive case of a resident, and what to do when they have a death?” Wise asked. “I’d like for them to be working through those scenarios if they’re not already so we don’t get caught flat-footed.”

The JCDA bought the 150-unit, rent-subsidized apartment building in September with plans to move its residents to more suitable apartments and sell the downtown Johnson City building to a commercial developer over the next few years.

Because it was formerly a hotel, it has only a couple of outside entrances and its units are connected by interior hallways, which presents more opportunities for viruses to spread.

Hank Carr, who oversees operations of the John Sevier Center for the JCDA’s task force on the building, said the property manager is aware of the dangers COVID-19 poses to residents. He said the manager has conferred with the Johnson City Housing Authority about how its staff is handling the pandemic at other public housing developments and has discussed best practices with Health Department officials.

Carr is a broker for the Realty Trust Group who specializes in property management and operational services for health care properties. He said property owners in his field have approached the pandemic differently.

Some have notified the public about positive tests for COVID-19. Others have preferred to handle infections privately, following recommended federal guidelines for cleaning.

Carr said he believed it best to allow the Sevier Center’s staff from M&M Management to plan for an outbreak as it sees fit.

“The issue here is the owner is the JCDA, and we all serve as the board,” Wise said. “My concern is, if there are instances at the Sevier, it will not be something the owner can keep secret. We’re going to have to own what’s happening in there in a much more public way, deciding who speaks, who doesn’t, what they say and what they don’t say.”

In other news:

The board further discussed ending its management relationship with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership.

As the partnership expands its economic development efforts, the board decided last month to hire its own staff to manage JCDA’s operations.

Dianna Canter, one of NeTREP’s staff members who works with the Development Authority, said she added salaries for two new full-time positions and one part-time position into JCDA’s proposed budget, which starts in July.

The board will also have to find a new meeting space and is in the process of updating its by-laws.

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