Downtown Johnson City development updates: What’s next for the 1888 building, breezeway


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Construction is a familiar sight in downtown Johnson City.

With reparations come preserving the history wrought in the bricks of the downtown cityscape.

Downtown breezeway

After some setbacks, the breezeway in downtown Johnson City will open within a few weeks, officials say.

Construction on the breezeway adjacent to The Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room began more than a year ago, and the past few months of construction have walled the 24-foot-wide walkway off from pedestrians.

The city originally estimated a finished project by the end of 2019, but 2020 started with the breezeway wrapped in construction and still closed to foot traffic.

According to Randy Trivette, the city’s director of facilities management, construction on the project is about 80% complete, with completion estimated by the end of January.

Trivette said the breezeway will open within a few weeks.

Trivette said passersby will notice the new brickwork completed by the end of the week.

“I’m glad that it’s (almost) completed and going to be opened up for citizens to use,” he said. “We really hate to have it closed right now while it’s construction, but just for safety reasons, that’s why we do it. When it gets opened, it’s going to be a great asset to downtown and to the community.”

He said a couple of things stalled the project – plans for it went through the city’s historic zoning commission for approval. Additionally, the contractor found in the early stages of the project that the facade wasn’t as stable as originally thought.

“We were very fortunate that it hadn’t fallen sooner,” Trivette said. “It had given away and lost its integrity behind the veneer, and that was pushing it down. As we were taking it down it was like playing Jenga – when you hit that certain brick that we removed it just brought the whole thing down.”

Trivette said that the city plans to keep the space as a breezeway, and noted that the space holds opportunity for artwork and gathering spaces.

The 1888 building

The 1888 building at 107 Buffalo St. has sat empty for more than 20 years.

When we last updated you on the 1888 building on 107 Buffalo St., the owners had a summons from the Board of Dwelling Standards to make needed repairs to the crumbling facade.

With windows boarded up and a faded storefront, the building has sat empty on Buffalo St. for nearly 25 years. Development Services Manager Dave McClelland said the owners are in the process of fixing the facade, but no efforts have been made to repair the inside of the building.

“The best of my knowledge, the interior space won’t function as a usable space currently,” he said. “It would have to have more permits pulled for an interior buildout, which would be typical for any kind of interior space, we would have to do some investigation and learn stuff about the inside of the building to make that happen.”

The current owners of the building live in California, according to property records.

According to property data records, Gemma Velasquez bought the building in 1996. Officials told WJHL in August that the building’s owners live in California.

McClelland said all of the permit work on the building has been completed that has been required, and the facade is in the process of being restored to accommodate for safety concerns.

“The transom glass that’s over the storefront is pretty tedious to restore appropriately, that’s kind of where they’re at in the process,” McClelland said.

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