City Commission caps busy meeting with $762,500 in real estate purchases

Zach Vance • Updated Sep 21, 2017 at 11:18 PM

Johnson City commissioners unanimously approved two real estate purchases totaling $762,500 during Thursday’s monthly meeting.

For $500,000, the city will soon own the Hands On! Regional Museum building at 315 E. Main St., in downtown.

The other was a $262,500 purchase of The First Church of Christ, Scientist at 401 Liberty Bell Blvd., next to Science Hill.

Because the city already owns the two buildings on each sides of 315 E. Main St., City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin envisions luring one or more retail enterprises into the three spaces to spur economic development along that block.

“Certainly, one of the concepts of putting those three properties together is that you have a block of properties that lends itself to development much easier,” Van Brocklin said.

“The question is whether you look at doing something that’s one entity or whether you look at splitting it up into multiple entities. Quite honestly, the magnitude of the spaces there, it probably won’t happen with just one business coming in. It will probably be multiple ones.”

Serving in decades past as a Woolworths, Sears and a JC Penney, the old building will surely need some enhancement or repair, which Van Brocklin doesn’t foresee the city being involved in.

“My guess is the city isn’t going to get involved in trying to develop these properties to get them ready, but we have them now available to developers, who with the right proposal, we would certainly have interest in selling them to them to develop. But I think the city will want to see some pretty specific proposals before we let those particular properties go,” Van Brocklin said.

The resolution to buy the Hands On! building included a lease agreement between the two parties, allowing the museum to remain in the building for set amount of time until it completes its move to the Gray Fossil Site Museum.

Hands On! leaders are trying to raise nearly $2 million to complete the transition, and Executive Director Andy Marquart confirmed the proceeds from the sale of the building would go to that endeavor.

In July 2016, the nonprofit museum entered an agreement to take over operations at the Gray Fossil Site’s East Tennessee State University General Shale Brick Natural History Museum, paving the way for the museum to migrate out of the downtown building where it first established itself in the 1980s.

“At that time the museum was looking at downtown as a starting place,” Marquart said.

“So there’s been talk of relocating to a more suitable facility since the mid-’90s. The collaboration in Gray and being able to invest fully in exhibits and educational content is really a win for us and for our customers.”

Instead of relocating all the exhibits, Marquart said Hands On! will use the money raised to buy new content. Hands On! is hoping to get a $500,000 contribution from Washington County, as well.

City leaders pounced on purchasing the 1.63-acre First Church of Christ, Scientist to hand it over to Science Hill, where it will transformed into an educational extension of the high school’s College, Career and Technical Education program.

Julia Decker, director of that program, said she has proposed using the building for criminal justice and digital arts labs, as her current building has grown cramped. Van Brocklin also suggested the property could be used for school bus parking and potentially a new competitive swimming pool.

Thursday’s other business included city leaders re-upping an annual agreement with the Johnson City Industrial Development Board to continue luring businesses into town.

A presentation by Business Development Director Alicia Summers showed the city currently has four authorized PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, agreements and one agreement pending.

NN Inc., Dentsply Sirona, Silverdale Parners and Mullican Flooring are all operating under PILOT agreements, each with respective job goals.

Summers said all those businesses are on track or have already met their job requirements, while an agreement is currently pending with Leisure Products International Inc., a swim spas manufacturing company.

Expected to close in October, that agreement would include a $7 million capital investment resulting in the creation of 290 new jobs with a baseline of 115 jobs.

With Mayor David Tomita calling it “historical cooperation,” city leaders officially voted to enter into an unprecedented intergovernmental agreement to guarantee bond debt for a proposed aerospace park at the Tri-Cities Airport.

Under the agreement, Johnson City is committed to covering 22.5 percent, or just over $1.9 million, of the $8.5 million in total debt the Tri-Cities Airport Authority is expected to take on.

Bristol, Tennessee, Kingsport and Washington County will also vote on an identical agreement to cover the remainder of debt. Sullivan County approved its intergovernmental agreement Wednesday.

The entire project, projected to create 2,000 jobs, will cost $18 million altogether, and to cover the difference, airport officials hope to apply for state grant funding in the coming months.

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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