Finding a way for the John Sevier Center project

Robert Houk • Mar 2, 2019 at 11:28 PM

Officials with the Johnson City Development Authority believe redevelopment of the John Sevier Center is the final component for revitalizing the downtown area.

Their mission now is to find a way of accomplishing that without Washington County’s participation in a $4.6 million tax-increment plan to buy and redevelop the John Sevier Center.

Resolutions to increase the debt limit ceiling in the downtown TIF district and for the county to agree to a TIF plan for financing the John Sevier Center project both failed in 7-7 votes by the County Commission on Feb. 26. Following the tie votes, JCDA officials said they were still committed to the project.

“We appreciate the partnership we have had with Washington County over the past 10 years, to use tax-increment financing to further our redevelopment of the downtown district,” the organization said in a statement released by Diana Cantler, the JCDA’s downtown director.

“Our hope is this commitment to our city’s core, which plays a major part in not only historic revitalization, but workforce development and talent attraction, continues.”

JCDA executive committee members are slated to meet Tuesday to discuss their options for going forward with the project.

Part Of A Plan

Robert Williams, chairman of the JCDA, said downtown redevelopments in other communities have counted on three big projects to help make the difference. Williams said work continues to refurbish the 110-year-old Model Mill on West Walnut Street. He said the city has seen success with the green space created by Founders Park.

 It’s time for the John Sevier Center, which opened as a stately hotel in August 1924, to join the redevelopment club.

“The John Sevier Center is the missing piece to the puzzle,” Williams said.

Williams told county commissioners who toured the John Sevier Center in January that it “just makes sense to repurpose” the former historic hotel to its “highest and best use.”

At the same time, Williams said the JCDA would look after the best interest of the center’s current tenants.

“First and foremost is a desire to create better housing and a better living experience for residents,” he said.

New Housing

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.

A key component of the redevelopment 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. The proposal is the kind of project the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is now pushing in communities nationwide.

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 could add $75,000 to Johnson City’s tax rolls.

The JCDA officials also noted in an official statement Feb. 26: “The John Sevier Center is more than an economic development project, the residents of that facility deserve housing that can meet standards that are set by the Housing and Urban Development Department. The process is multifaceted and is a multi-year commitment on the JCDA’s behalf.

“The JCDA’s goal in this has always been twofold — to ensure that the residents of the building have better housing and for an important building in our city’s history to be restored to its full potential.”

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