Former nightclub spot to become a campus ministry

Robert Houk • Mar 4, 2019 at 6:34 PM

Work began this week to demolish a former nightclub on West Walnut Street to make room for a campus ministry’s new home.

The Well, which has provided Christian mentoring services to East Tennessee State University students since 1998, plans to relocate to the site of the former Tu-La-Fe and Seahorse nightclubs of the 1970s and 1980s. The building at 820 W. Walnut St. has also served as home to The Planet, Chrome and most recently The Library.

A fire in 2016 damaged a portion of what had been the bar and dance floor of the long-standing night spot.

“Regardless of the name, it has been a nightclub where sin has been celebrated,” the ministry states in printed material for its fundraising campaign.

James McNeill, director of The Well, said Monday his organization paid $900,000 to purchase the nightclub property in December, and hopes to raise $3.3 million or more to build a “trendy” coffee shop, a worship center with a 600-seat auditorium and meeting/office spaces on the site by August 2020.

“There have been a lot of bad decisions made here over the past 30 to 40 years,” McNeill said of the property’s nightclub history. 

The new 16,800-square-foot structure will become headquarters for the religious organization, which is slated to be out of its current meeting space in the city’s Millennium Centre when ETSU takes over ownership of that facility in fall of 2020. He said between 300 to 500 students meet weekly at The Well.

McNeill said the West Walnut Street site is a “prime location” for his ministry because it is within walking distance of the ETSU campus He said his ministry has been “praying” for nearly 18 years to have a chance to buy the nightclub property.

He said 820 W. Walnut St. will be a place for both students and local residents to gather in fellowship and faith.

“Our desire for this facility to be a blessing to our community,” McNeill said. “We want to see this space transformed to a place of hope where students can grow in the ministry of Jesus Christ.”

McNeill said he believes The Well’s decision to relocate to West Walnut Street will serve as an inspiration to other businesses and organizations to invest in the redevelopment of the corridor between downtown Johnson City and the ETSU campus.

“The city is excited about what we are doing here,” he said.

Johnson City Commissioner Joe Wise, who is involved with a task force overseeing the West Walnut Street corridor revitalization efforts, said Monday he was “pleased to see” any group making such an investment in the area.

McNeill said more information about The Well’s project on West Wallnut and how to contribute to the ministry’s capital campaign can be found at thewell2020.com or by calling 232-9355.




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