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Cities deserve power over blight

Johnson City Press • Dec 12, 2018 at 8:00 AM

You don’t have to look far in Johnson City to find blighted property.

The Center South Shopping Center off South Roan Street is the prime example. Once home to a Kmart and a Kroger grocery store, the large swath of prime real estate has been largely vacant for decades save for a few small units at the north end of the complex.

You’d think property just off an interstate exit adjacent to two major thoroughfares would attract any number of developers. It’s the first big spot in Johnson City off Interstate 26 from North Carolina and Erwin, and why a Cracker Barrel, Trader Joe’s, Costo or some other big fish isn’t sitting there by now is baffling. Walmart nibbled at the old Kmart location a few years ago as a spot for one of its “Neighborhood Market” stores but backed out.

North Johnson City’s old Kmart location is now in a similar situation. Rumors keep flying about various new tenants and configurations for the site, but nothing has taken hold since the store closed more than a year ago.

Shamefully, one of downtown Johnson City’s oldest buildings has been vacant and crumbling even longer. The old bank on Buffalo Street near Fountain Square was built in the 1880s. Five years ago, the city threatened to demolish the historic structure to spur its out-of-town owners into making safety repairs. The owners shored things up, but that’s all. The building remains an empty eyesore.

Several residential districts in Johnson City also have dilapidated and/or abandoned houses. Despite significant progress in urban renewal, the city has a long way to go in rehabbing such dwellings.

So Johnson City residents should be glad to know that Northeast Tennessee municipal leaders are asking the state Legislature to give them more power. As Press Staff Writer Zach Vance reported in Sunday’s edition, the 2019 Joint Legislative Policy of the Tri-Cities statement supports the creation of new and enhanced mechanisms for local governments to deal with blighted residential and commercial properties.

The policy statement, though, offered no specific suggestion for a fix.

We urge the region’s legislative representatives to sit down with our local governments to develop those specifics and pass legislation in 2019. It’s time Northeast Tennessee governments — and all cities in the state — had more control over economic stability, appearance and safety.

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