JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)– With Johnson City being the largest of the Tri-Cities, its downtown has served as the hub of the region for more than 100 years and continues to do so with a new path forward.
“Downtown’s always been the place to be. It’s just that we didn’t know how to use downtown anymore,” said Patricia “Tish” Oldham, the executive director for the Johnson City Development Authority and the Downtown Johnson City Foundation. “We all expected it to be your typical retail or we expected it to look exactly like it did in 1952 or 1965. We’re just not there anymore. We’re not using our buildings that way.”
Oldham is a Johnson City native. She said what people see happening downtown is where the city has been trying to go for decades now.
“As we look at the number of building permits that have been pulled, you can be very analytical about it and see the amount of money that’s being committed,” Oldham said. “But all you have to do right now is walk down Market Street, walk down Main Street, and you’re going to actually hear the hammers. You’re going to hear the drills. You’re going to see balconies being put up, and you’re going to see walls being demoed. “
As of October 2023, there’s a big focus on making spaces multi-use.
“It matters who the businesses are that are in downtown,” said Shannon Castillo with Mitch Cox Realty. “And what we find when we do our job with commercial real estate, whether that means finding a buyer for a building or finding a tenant to lease space, is we want them to be able to have some really amazing co-tenancy.”
Castillo focuses heavily on the downtown area and helped make the Generalist Store a reality. It’s an example of turning an old building into a new, multi-use space. The general store has 10 apartments up above it.
“The Generalist is part of a very, very old building. Massengill’s was a staple in downtown Johnson City for like a hundred years,” Castillo said. “And through the course of a brand new developer coming in and completely renovating this entire building, now we have our own little general store and retail collective that has changed the face of downtown.”
Castillo said there’s a recipe to have a successful business downtown, and it starts with the right people.
”You have to have a developer that sees the potential that some of these old buildings have. That’s step one. Step two is we’ve got to have economic development with the Johnson City Development Authority and the city of Johnson City coming in and giving opportunities to help these developers make these numbers work,” Castillo said. “And then three, you have to have a tenant that also sees the benefit of being in a downtown versus another part in the city or in another bigger city.”
Oldham agreed and said the influx of people moving to the region will also have an impact.
“Johnson City has been built by people who have come from other places,” Oldham said. “And so we know you’re just going to jump right in there like the rest of us have got a business going, have a conversation with someone, let’s make this city ours, and we’re going to continue to make it what it is next.”
And as for what is next?
“I think you’re going to see a lot more residential, whether that means apartments or condos that might be available for sale,” Castillo said. “I think we will see more retail, specialty retail. I think we’ll see more restaurants. In addition, I think we will see office space, too.”