Johnson City celebrates its 150th anniversary

Zach Vance • Mar 30, 2019 at 10:00 PM

Appointed in February 2018, the Sesquicentennial Commission was directed to plan, prepare and organize events to celebrate Johnson City’s 150th anniversary in 2019. 

Beyond that, the nine-member council was assigned the momentous task of selecting a legacy project that recognizes the city’s history, its connection to the present and its bridge to the future.

Once commissioners got acclimated to their new role, the group met with Public Works Director Phil Pindzola in April to begin brainstorming different legacy project ideas.

Pindzola initially brought 15 projects to the table, and told members, “You can pick one, some or none. The point is how big or how small you want it to be. It’s your voice that counts.”

Among the proposals were: Finding an alternative use for the Big Burley Warehouse; Placing a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the green space at Langston High School; Enhancing the overlook on Buffalo Mountain or installing a solar feature at King Commons Park.

While considering their options, sesquicentennial commissioners certainly weighed the fact they would be responsible for raising the funds needed to construct the project, minus a $1.2 million appropriation made by the city.

At least two ideas mentioned during that April meeting stuck: A natural playground on King Street and a fountain/splash pad at King Commons.

Kingsport-based design firm Barge Solutions was eventually brought in to create renderings of the proposed fountain and natural playground. To incorporate the city’s history into the project, Barge also included the design of 15 “markers” around King Commons Park that would detail memorable events throughout the city’s history.

By October, the fountain was still part of the project as sesquicentennial commissioners targeted a fundraising goal of $1.65 million to pair with the city’s contribution to finance the project.

However, just one month later, the committee learned the fountain with animated lights, as well as the playground features, would cost more than $4.2 million.

That reality prompted a prioritization of proposed legacy projects, and the fountain was relegated to the bottom of that list, because of its price tag and also because a similar splash pad was being planned for Carver Park.

The natural playground was elevated as the top legacy project list, considering the need for more children’s activities in downtown, while a history plaza, with an ornamental dome in the middle, took second priority.

In December, the newly seated City Commission, with a newly appointed mayor, gave its blessing to project. In the months since, the 150th anniversary panel has forged ahead with its proposal and continued fundraising efforts.

New renderings were created by Barge Design Solutions, with the natural playground featuring an outdoor classroom, a slide, climbing ropes and nets, a musical play area and a storybook station.

The latest rendering of the history plaza showcases the three-star emblem on the Tennessee state flag, designed by Johnson City attorney LeRoy Reeves. In the center of the plaza is an ornamental dome with “bands” circling it. Each of those “bands” will describe significant events in the city’s history.

The estimated cost of the playground and history plaza, including the $188,000 cost for a restroom additions, totals a little more than $2 million.

As of now, the city is currently accepting bids for the legacy project until April 12. City leaders envision the project being completed before the Dec. 1, 2019 anniversary of Johnson City receiving its first charter.

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