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City Commission to vote on purchasing Hands On! Museum building

Zach Vance • Sep 18, 2017 at 11:00 PM

The Hands On! Regional Museum’s building in downtown Johnson City could be under new ownership soon. 

Johnson City commissioners will vote on a measure during Thursday’s meeting to purchase the building at 313 East Main Street for $500,000, and then lease it to Hands On! until it moves to its new location at the Gray Fossil Site Museum. 

The way the measure is written, the city of Johnson City would make 10 equal payments of $50,000, with the first payment being due at the closing date, which was unspecified. 

The lease agreement between the city and Hands On! would effectively transfer the property to the city, but would allow Hands On! to stay in downtown until it completes its move to the Fossil Site, which is expected sometime in the spring. 

“They have a 30-day notice requirement (on the lease), and we have a 90-day notice,” City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners Monday. “The reason I set it up that way, they’re going to give us a lot more than 30 days’ notice, and even if they don’t, it’s not going to impact us and I feel like they need at least 90 days if we were to ever do something different than the museum.” 

The city actually owns the two buildings on each side of 313 E. Main St., and Mayor David Tomita said just being able to control who moves into the space would be worth the purchase. 

Peterson said the lease would offer the museum some flexibility on its term limit since Hands On! is in the middle of a $1.5 million to $2 million capital campaign to raise the necessary funding to complete the move to Gray. 

“A $500,000 contribution from the county and a $500,000 contribution from the city has been looked at as essential to raise enough monies to be able to make that move,” Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin said. 

“In the process of discussing what that $500,000 contribution from the municipality would look like, we started talking about whether they’d be willing to transfer that piece of property, because putting those three pieces of property together has value to us. So they’re willingness to deed that over to us for that contribution is very appealing to the city and has value to the taxpayers.”

Commissioner Jenny Brock questioned how many repairs the old building would need and asked Peterson to have someone walk through and survey it prior to officially closing. 

For over 30 years, Hands On! Museum has operated in downtown Johnson City, but in July 2016, the nonprofit took over operations at the East Tennessee State University General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site.

In October 2016, Hands On! Executive Director Andy Marquart told the Johnson City Development Authority that they were looking for a partnership with a downtown property owner with floor space to dedicate to exhibits.

“Our board views the relationship with Johnson City as very positive,” he said at the time. “At times in the past, we were the attraction downtown, but now we feel like downtown is the attraction, and it’s something we’d like to fold into.”

In other business, Johnson City leaders on Thursday will be the second local government to vote on an intergovernmental financing agreement, which would fund grading on a plot of land beside the Tri-Cities Regional Airport with the intent of eventually opening an aerospace park. 

Sullivan County will vote on its agreement Wednesday, while Kingsport, Washington County and Bristol will all vote in October. 

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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