JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- City leaders plan to transform the historic John Sevier Center from low-income housing to high-end residential and retail space. The process could take five years.
“The whole goal for us is the revitalization of this property,” said Dianna Cantler of the Johnson City Development Authority.
But revitalizing John Sevier means its 150 residents will need to be relocated to a new home – one that doesn’t yet exist.
The JCDA hopes to hire a developer to build new housing for the residents within the next three to four months.
“We would hope by 2022 that we would have new housing built and the residents relocated,” said Cantler.
JCDA announced the purchase of the building in September 2019 for over $4 million. Cantler said any revenue the JCDA makes from owning the building in the next two years will help pay the loan they took out for it.
The developer will have to build new housing according to HUD regulations. The new housing aims to have green space for the residents and multiple smaller buildings rather than the current high-rise layout. But this requires land the city is still searching for.
“You really need to have six to seven acres,” said Cantler.
Another concern that comes with removing residents from central downtown is ensuring the elderly and disabled have transportation to access groceries and services.
“We will also make sure it’s on a bus line so there would be a way to come downtown if you had an appointment with one of the agencies here,” Cantler said.
Aaron Murphy, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries Inc. in Johnson City, said John Sevier residents are waiting to find out when and where they may be moving. Good Samaritan works with the John Sevier Center to help provide food and other necessities for the residents.
“I’ve personally been working with them for the past several years,” Murphy said. “We’ve heard concerns about what their future holds. We’ve just been working hard with these residents to assure them their future is secure. It’s great to live in a city where the leaders care about people first.”
Relocating residents and building new housing for them is Phase One.
Cantler said at least seven interested developers have already reached out to the JCDA for Phase Two – restoring the original glamour of the historic building. This could include retail on the bottom floor with high-end condos and a boutique hotel above.
“It is not going to be an inexpensive project. The property value is going to increase immensely once it’s done. On any estimate we’re talking a $10 to $13 million project,” Cantler said.
The JCDA plans to have a second contractor already at work on Phase Two restoring the building when the residents move out in two years. She estimated that the restoration process could take at least 16 months.
The re-opening of the John Sevier as a high-end space may be five years down the line. But JCDA believes preserving this piece of Johnson City History is worth the time and effort.
“It could be something every member of our city is proud of,” said Cantler.