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JCDA contributes to Ashe Street Courthouse study

Nathan Baker • Updated Jun 19, 2020 at 8:47 PM

The Johnson City Development Authority will chip in for a study to see what could be in the Ashe Street Courthouse’s future.

Authority members voted unanimously Friday to contribute $2,500 to the Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee & Southwest Virginia for a feasibility study of the historic downtown Johnson City’s structure and potential uses for it.

The authority was the last entity to pledge funds to the project. The Washington County Commission voted in April to contribute $2,500, and the Southside Neighborhood Organization pledged $1,000 in January.

Anne Mason, the Heritage Alliance’s executive director, told the authority board that her organization, which is the preservation coordinator for the building, submitted an application for its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places this month.

“It’s a beautiful building, as you all know, with a great history,” Mason said. “In researching it, we found out it was the first postal savings bank in the state of Tennessee, and it’s got a long history. We’re working on a National Register nomination for the building, and we also said the next step should be an updated feasibility study.”

Megan Tewell, programming coordinator for the Heritage Alliance, said the feasibility study will help the entity that takes on redeveloping the courthouse, whether a public group or a private company, to know what to expect from the project.

The Development Authority asked that the County Commission first commit to contributing to the feasibility study before it would approve funds. In April, the commission approved $2,500 with the stipulation that the JCDA match that amount.

The building at 401 Ashe St. was a U.S. Post Office when it opened in 1910.

It continued as the city’s post office until 1938. A year later, Washington County began its acquisition of the property and the building was used as a county courthouse for decades until it became the headquarters of Washington County’s 911 Emergency Communications District in the late 1980s.

The building has been vacant since 911 moved its operations to Boones Creek in late 2017.

If the county doesn’t find a new public use for the Ashe Street Courthouse, its ownership will revert back to the federal government. That could result in the property being sold at auction.

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy previously estimated the building needed $3 million in repairs, but said the most immediate concern was fixing its leaking roof. Commissioners are expected to consider funding roof repairs Monday at their regular meeting.