John Sevier project back on county's agenda

Robert Houk • Feb 24, 2019 at 5:20 PM

Will the third time be the charm when it comes to the Washington County Commission voting on a tax increment plan for the Johnson City Development Authority to purchase the John Sevier Center?

The item is scheduled for a vote tonight after commissioners decided in December to defer the vote for a month, and after JCDA officials asked commissioners to pull the TIF from their agenda in January. Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said commissioners have had plenty of time since the last meeting to have their questions answered about the $4.6 million project.

“I don’t know what more could they basically ask for,” Grandy said.

Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said his colleagues have “put in the time and work” to find the answers to the questions their constituents have been asking about the John Sevier Center project.

“This has proved to be challenge for some commissioners,” he said.

A ‘Huge’ Project

While the matter hasn’t come to an actual vote, county commissioners have spent a great deal of time in the past three months talking about the John Sevier Center project, as well as the concepts of TIFs and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes. The most recent conversation came Friday with a workshop for commissioners to hear updates on existing tax incentive projects.

Commissioners also joined JCDA members on a tour of the John Sevier Center in January to hear from residents and managers of the low-income housing facility. During that visit, JCDA Chairman Robert Williams told Commissioner Jerome Fitzgerald it “just makes sense to repurpose” the John Sevier Center to its “highest and best use.”

“This is a huge project for both Johnson City and the Washington County,” Grandy said last week. “We are talking about as much as $12 million new housing that will go on the tax rolls. The redevelopment of the John Sevier Center will double the impact of the TIF district.” 

The JCDA voted in September to buy the 10-story building for $4.1 million and 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.

Reaping the Tax Benefits

A  key component of the project will be the relocation of John Sevier Center tenants to what early plans identify as 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. JCDA officials said the proposal is the kind of project the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development supports and encourages.

Williams said the new housing will most likely be located outside the current downtown TIF district, which means there will be “significant new tax dollars” going to the city and county. Building the 150-200 new housing units would add $95,000 to the county’s annual tax collections and $75,000 to the city’s rolls.

 And with the  new housing for the former John Sevier Center residents being developed outside the downtown TIF district, the tax impact would be immediate with the completion of its construction. JCDA official said could take three years for the transition to the new house to be complete.

The project also calls for the JCDA to make some improvements to the John Sevier Center and sell the historic former hotel building to a buyer who will redevelop it as a boutique hotel or upscale condos.

“From an economic sense, this project makes a lot of sense,” Williams said. 


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