After turning in his notice a month ago, Neilson left his development coordinator position to be the planning director for the city of Morristown.
But Neilson didn’t make it through Friday without fellow employees hosting an informal sendoff reception, which included several heartfelt farewells and a large cake adorned with his alma mater’s logo.
One by one, Neilson made his way around the room shaking hands and sharing stories with those he’d spent the past two decades working alongside.
“I’m very familiar with what he’s done all these years ’cause that’s what I did for about five years,” said City Manager Pete Peterson, who served as the development coordinator prior to Neilson.
“Steve’s got a tremendous long tenure with us and just a lot of institutional history that will be hard to replace.”
Many city employees commended Neilson’s historical perspective and background knowledge.
“He’s always stayed real current with what’s happening in planning and has always been out there on the cutting edge of trying to help us be innovative and creative,” Peterson said.
Senior Planner Angie Charles said it would be impossible for the Planning Division to replace Neilson’s knowledge.
“You just can’t fill those shoes,” Charles said. “He’s a great mentor and there’s just a lot to learn from him. He’ll be missed.”
Of the numerous projects Neilson’s lent his time to, some of the most notable include the Med Tech Parkway, the Tweetsie Trail, the Millennium Centre and downtown’s revitalization.
Neilson said he remembers walking several loops around downtown during his lunch break and not seeing a single person. Now, downtown has transformed into one of Johnson City’s main attractions.
“Having some part in that is really rewarding,” Neilson said. “You can write all the regulations you want, but until you have people who are invested and property owners who are willing to spend money, that’s what really makes it possible.”
Neilson’s job with Johnson City was to be the primary contact between developers and the city, interoperate zoning codes and provide advice to those involved.
“He’s seen downtown go from a very desolate place into the thriving area that it is today,” Peterson said. “I think that’s probably something he’ll always be able to look back on with a rewarding sense. He was around when all this happened and was involved with all this growth.”
Neilson’s latest project has been his involvement with the West Walnut Street task force in creating a unique zoning code for the area between East Tennessee State University and downtown Johnson City.
“I hate that I’m leaving just as we really get into this Walnut Street corridor, but I know (Chairman) Joe Wise will do a good job carrying it forward,” Neilson said.
Although he’s moving jobs, Neilson said he will continue living in Johnson City and commute to Morristown everyday.
“They offered me a great opportunity that has a lot of potential, too, and I’m hoping to see the same sort of activities there as (Johnson City),” Neilson said.
The development coordinator position is currently being advertised on the the city’s website and requires a bachelor’s degree in planning, civil engineering or geography.
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP