The breezeway connecting the downtown Johnson City square parking lot to Main Street will soon be open to pedestrians again.
Well, at least half of it will be.
Randy Trivette, facilities director for the city, said the 4-inch brick veneer wall on the alleyway’s east side is now demolished and no longer at risk of falling.
“I’ve got city crews going this week (to) open up the breezeway, and put a fence down the middle of it so we can open up half of it so pedestrians can use it. But the half closest to the wall we’re working on will stay closed, and we’ll still have signage on it,” Trivette said.
The brick veneer was originally built in 1969 and beginning to bow out. Trivette said the veneer was not property tied into the original wall, and that was causing the movement.
“It was a very, very dangerous safety issue, especially after we revealed it and saw what was behind it. It was bellowing out, looking like it was moving. We had some measuring guides that were permanent in there to show the movement at a control joint. So it was moving a little bit every few months,” Trivette told commissioners at Monday’s agenda review meeting.
The alleyway has been closed for several months, dating back to at least October when commissioners first authorized a contract with Mitch Cox Construction for the demolition work.
Behind the now-demolished wall is an 18-inch brick, bonded wall, which Trivette said is in terrible condition but no longer a safety risk to the public.
“Once we got (the veneer wall) down, the wall behind it revealed missing brick, dry stack, holes. (It’s) very ugly the way it exists now. But I will say this: The hazard has been removed so there is no longer a safety issue,” Trivette said.
The choice for commissioners at Monday’s meeting was whether to move on with repairing the wall, or wait and see if a developer might be interested in constructing another building in the breezeway space.
“That space was once a building, and when it was tore down, we became the owners,” City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners.
Trivette’s recommendation, if commissioners want to keep it a breezeway, is to build a new 20-foot veneer brick wall, and from there, put up wooden studs, plywood and attach HardiePlank siding to it. He estimated the repair would cost around $100,000 to $110,000.
So far, the city has paid just under $50,000 for the demolition work, and the entire project has a budget of approximately $200,000.
However, the possibility of putting the property back on the tax rolls garnered enough intrigue that commissioners ultimately opted to put the whole project on pause for at least 45 days.
In the meantime, Peterson said he would speak to a couple downtown realtors to gauge the interest of someone actually constructing a building there.
“I use this term loosely just for illustrative purposes, but if you gave it to somebody in exchange for ... ‘Hey, you’re going to have something open by Christmas,’ that’s a good deal because suddenly you’ve got something that’s non-taxable that is taxable that’s created some jobs and retail activity and it’s something different downtown,” Peterson said.