$22 million planned for W. Walnut St. development as Johnson City leaders consider largest budget in city history

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- After a year of delayed capital spending due to the pandemic, Johnson City is considering the largest budget in the city’s history.

City leaders believe now is the time to invest in key projects they believe will have a huge return on investment, including the development of West Walnut Street. The corridor connects the downtown area with East Tennessee State University.

As a $302 million budget passed through City Commission on first reading on Thursday night, an additional $5 million in debt was issued to the West Walnut Street project. The project’s total cost in the FY22 budget is $22 million.

“West Walnut Street is going to be a huge game-changer. There are several projects, that, when we can make these investments, we will start seeing this return,” said Commissioner Jenny Brock.

W. Walnut St.

City Manager Pete Peterson said the signicant size of the proposed budget comes after capital projects were deferred last year, along with the infusion of stimulus dollars into the local economy.

“Sales tax collections have been historically high for about the last 12 or 15 months. And it has put us in a position to where we can catch up on some capital equipment replacement, and also undertake some very strategic capital projects in our community,” said Peterson.

West Walnut Steet will be getting all new power and utility lines, streetscapes, sidewalks, landscaping, and more. Peterson said the budgeted $22 million will likely cover expenditures for the 24 to 30-month project.

When the entire, multi-year project is complete, Peterson said the street upgrades will likely cost the city around $30 million.

“I fully feel like it will be just as impactful, if not more, than the development of King Commons and Founders Park. It’s really going to be big,” said Peterson.

Grateful for the improvements is Tennessee Hills president and founder Stephen Callahan. A new ‘brewstillery’ is set to open on West Walnut Street at the former JRH Brewing location.

Renovations were in full swing Friday as the Tennessee Hills brewstillery approaches its current target of opening in July.

“We’re probably within a month of opening our doors. We’re actually making beer right now, so we’ll be able to serve it within a month,” said Callahan.

A beer and spirits factory, plus a restaurant, bar, and museum are in the company’s future plans at another property along West Walnut Street. The targeted opening is in early 2023.

“I think it’s going to be a one-of-a-kind facility. There’s not many facilities in the country that actually produce, beer, wine, spirits, canned sangrias, and brandies,” he said.

The Tennessee Hills brewstillery location on W. Walnut St.

The ambitious plans mark at least a $12 million investment in the Walnut Street area, meaning Callahan and his project partners welcome the city’s planned improvements to the corridor.

“It’s really good to know that the town is putting forth the effort and the investment to draw people like us down here. And hopefully, it will encourage other businesses,” said Callahan. “You know, just the tourism dollars that we’re going to be bringing downtown, the tax dollars that we’re going to be generating. I think it’s just a very good move on Johnson City’s part.”

The budget still needs two more readings before it officially passes through the Johnson City Commission. The third and final reading will be on June 17th.

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