Work expected in 2017 as Johnson City's $8 million investment expands seating at ETSU's performing arts center

Gary B. Gray • Updated Sep 13, 2016 at 4:01 PM

Johnson City’s $8 million investment in East Tennessee State University’s new performing arts center will nearly double the main auditorium’s seating capacity and bring the project cost to $52 million.

The State Building Commission last week approved the facility’s expansion, which includes an agreement with the city that grows the number of seats from 635 to a minimum of 1,200. ETSU’s budget for the new addition has now risen from from $40,650,000 to $52,338,250.

“With the increased budget, the architect can begin design and development,” ETSU Chief of Staff Jeremy Ross said Tuesday. “We were there, as was City Manager Pete Peterson. The state architect approved the details, and I know the end result will be an opening in the spring of 2019.”

The university is eligible to receive $28 million in funds from the state, should ETSU allocate $3.5 million and raise $10.2 million in additional matching funds for the center.

The Johnson City Commission approved the agreement Aug. 4. At that time, the university had raised about $8.4 million. Washington County Commissioner and former ETSU President Dr. Paul Stanton told commissioners an additional $1 million to $1.5 million donation was coming soon.

Ross said the university has received an additional $1 million and now has $9.4 million in matching funds. He also said an updated construction schedule should be available in about one week. Denark Construction and architect McCarty Holsaple McCarty, both based in Knoxville, will work to prepare bid packages.

“It’s still going to be four or five months before you see anything happening out there,” Peterson said. “But the state has approved the city’s investment, and there’s been a lot of people working on this for a long time.”

City commissioners voted 3-1 in a third attempt to come to terms with university officials on the new structure that will be built adjacent to the Millennium Centre off West State of Franklin Road.

Vice Mayor David Tomita and Commissioners Jeff Banyas and Jenny Brock voted for the agreement. Mayor Clayton Stout, who has expressed continual concerns over what he felt were architectural delays and cost uncertainties, voted against the move. Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin was absent.

“I’m thrilled that it’s happening,” Van Brocklin said. “It does sound now that the architect can be turned loose. But one of the issues we’ve been concerned about is that the university have a full accounting of donations. They are going to have to have those funds on hand, because the state insists that all the dollars have to be there up front.”

Johnson City held a special referendum in the 1990s in which voters were asked to increase the local sales tax rate by .25 percent. The new revenue would have gone to a city-owned performing arts center, but the measure failed by a 3-1 margin.

The $8 million will come from the issuance of debt, paid for with money from the city’s hotel-motel tax. An increase in the tax from 5 percent to 7 percent is bringing in an additional $560,000 per year. The projected debt service payments are $540,000 per year over 20 years.

In return for its investment, the city asked for increased seating capacity, added or expanded restrooms, lobbies and public areas, expanded electrical and plumbing, HVAC, fire suppression and other systems. City officials also want the arts center and Millennium Centre to be physically connected, through design or renovation of the Millennium Centre.

Johnson City’s total investment is closer to $10 million. It includes the $8 million for construction, a $500,000 donation to the university of a courtyard adjacent to the Millennium Centre, $350,000 for signalization at the intersection of West State of Franklin Road and West Harris Drive, about $150,000 for a stormwater detention site and $1.5 million provided through the Washington County Economic Development Council and Washington County.

The agreement also provides public availability for a minimum of 20 dates per year at no cost to the community and and includes a minimum of 10 events per year targeted for Johnson City and surrounding communities.

Email Gary Gray at [email protected]. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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