A new vision for the John Sevier Center

Robert Houk • Jan 12, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Guy Rhodes has lived in the John Sevier Center since September. A veteran and native of Pennsylvania, Rhodes said it was the Veterans Affairs Medical Center Hospital at Mountain Home that brought him to Johnson City.

“I love to travel,” he said. “I’ve been all over.”

Rhodes was sitting in his sparse 11th-floor apartment at a small table with a deck of playing cards when a group of Washington County commissioners and members of the Johnson City Development Authority came knocking Friday morning.

The delegation was touring the 150-unit, low-income housing facility before a vote by the County Commission on Jan. 28 on whether to allow the JCDA to use $4.6 million in tax increment financing to buy and redevelop the historic former hotel.

Commissioner Jodi Jones told Rhodes she wanted to hear more about how he and other residents of the John Sevier Center feel about the proposed project. The JCDA voted in September to buy the downtown building and to bring the units up to acceptable conditions, help transition residents to new housing facilities elsewhere in the city and then sell the Sevier Center to a commercial developer.

Rhodes said he has mostly enjoyed his stay at the John Sevier Center, but told Jones: “You’ve got to put up with the crap that goes on here.”

Another tenant, who identified herself simply as Betty Jo, said she has lived in the John Sevier Center for more than 24 years.

“It’s small, very small,” she said as commissioners entered her apartment.

Betty Jo said she was a veteran, and her disability does not permit her to drive. She said the management of the facility do what they can to help residents, but there are things “It would take a miracle” to fix.

“It’s not space that makes you comfortable, it’s the relationships,” Betty Jo said.

John Sigley said he was comfortable in his one-bedroom apartment, which is the third he has occupied during his nearly eight-year stay in the John Sevier Center. Even so, he hopes to soon sign a lease for one of the new units envisioned by JCDA in its TIF project.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Sigley said of the proposal.

So does JCDA Chairman Robert Williams, who explained the details of the project to County Commissioner Jerome Fitzgerald during the tour of the John Sevier Center. Williams said a key component of the project will be the relocation of John Sevier Center tenants to four new buildings of 40 units each, which will include green spaces and be closer to grocery stores, pharmacies and other entities that residents desire.

He said the JCDA proposal is the kind of project the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development supports. Williams said it “just makes sense to repurpose” the John Sevier Center to its “highest and best use.”

The JCDA chairman said the TIF project would be beneficial to all concerned.

“The tenants get a new and better living space,” Williams said. “That’s why the (Jan 28) vote is so important because we only get one shot at this.” 

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