Downtown living continues to grow

Joe Avento • Apr 10, 2018 at 9:35 AM

Dick Nelson knows a thing or two about living downtown. After all, he has called downtown Johnson City home for the past 10 years.

“You don’t have to go very far to do much,” Nelson says. “I like being able to just walk out and go to a restaurant, just walk down the street.”

Nelson was a little early to the party of downtown living, but the community is catching up. As downtown Johnson City’s revitalization continues its momentum, so does its number of permanent residents.

“I think we saw the first round in downtown moving back about 10 years ago,” said Eva Hunter, principal broker and property manager for Urban Redevelopment Alliance, which manages more than 200 residential and commercial units, almost all of them downtown.

“Now we’re seeing a different kind of demographic, different economic level. There seems to be a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. In that mix, we’re still seeing retirees moving downtown because they want the ability to eat, drink, shop and walk.

“They don’t have to worry about a car and they feel more secure. This gives them a sense of community to live downtown.”

Many properties have bike racks and they are put to good use as bicycles and pubic transportation are important to the residents.

“The newer wave of residents, some of them don’t even have cars,” Hunter said. “They live, work and eat in downtown. Some of them go to school at ETSU. Along with this group comes a high value for outdoor activities. They’re appreciative of the green spaces our city has created.”

The renovation of TVA Credit Union Ballpark, home of the Johnson City Cardinals, and the starting point of the Tweetsie Trail are both within walking distance of downtown and add to the attractiveness.

“Most of the people that live downtown look to be younger,” Nelson said. “I think younger people have a whole different mindset when it comes to their living experience.

“I see a lot of medical students, graduate students that are downtown. I think they like being able to walk out and not have to drive.”

In addition to all the obvious benefits, for Nelson, living downtown is a matter of convenience. He lives above one of his businesses, Nelson Fine Art.

“I like walking downstairs to work,” he said. “Actually, I love it. I call it a 17-step commute.”

Living so close to work is kind of a two-edged sword for Nelson. He rarely gets too far from his job, especially when he’s home trying to relax.

“If I want to try to not be at work a little bit, if there’s a problem, everybody knows I’m just a phone call away because everybody knows I’m just a few feet away,” he said.

For the record, it’s a “200-step commute” to Nelson’s other business, Dos Gatos Coffee Bar.

Many, if not most, of downtown buildings with a business on the first floor either have or will have residential living spaces above. In fact, the city’s code says “Structures with commercial, service, or office uses on the first floor and upper level residential uses are encouraged.”

“I see nothing but continued growth,” Hunter said. “I predict it will grow to Commerce Street down Market and over toward Wilson and Hamilton.”

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