JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Johnson City Development Authority (JCDA) approved a city request to locate a downtown police substation in the Downtown Centre building at its monthly meeting Friday.
Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) officers who already patrol downtown will begin using the space within a few weeks. It encompasses several offices and a front area behind a rollup window just inside the East Market Street entrance of the building at 103 E. Market.
Johnson City’s new homeless outreach coordinator will also work out of an office in the space, which is separate from the rest of the now-empty 38,000-square-foot building. Northeast State Community College vacated the space several months ago after using it as a Johnson City campus for eight years.
Assistant City Manager Randy Trivette told commissioners the substation won’t be open 24/7 at first, but that the city is bringing on additional officers which will affect the downtown patrol presence.
“It’ll get to the point where we’re going to have a lot more shifts and a lot more people on that detail,” Trivette said. Eventually, he said, “they will be there at night and they will be there around the clock.”
City Manager Cathy Ball said the city had also extended an offer for the homeless outreach coordinator. That person is expected to begin official duties in about a month but has already begun meeting with homeless services providers in the city.
In other business related to the Downtown Centre, JCDA Executive Director Tish Oldham said Northeast State’s departure has created an unexpected cost burden. The college was paying just $1,000 a month lease before JCDA said any renewal would need to be for around $30,000 monthly, but its presence meant utilities and other building costs were not charged to JCDA.
Those costs run thousands of dollars per month and will be absorbed by JCDA until and unless a new tenant is found. East Tennessee State University has toured the building for possible use, but Oldham warned that an ongoing cost burden could send JCDA to the city to ask for funds, as it has done several times in the past couple years for expenses related to John Sevier Center costs.
“We don’t have to come to the city right now, but we might,” Oldham said.
JCDA assessing TIF request to offset John Sevier costs
JCDA members also heard an update on discussions about how to move nearly $600,000 in John Sevier Center expenditures off the JCDA’s general fund books.
JCDA bought the 11-story apartment complex that serves disabled and elderly residents in 2019 with the intention of having new housing built, then selling the iconic former hotel to a developer.
The JCDA now has a target date of late 2025 for residents to move to new apartments that will be constructed on South Roan Street, but in the interim, the building has been a very expensive proposition due to its dilapidated state. Rental income has not been sufficient to cover those costs, which also now include nearly round-the-clock security.
The John Sevier balance sheet shows a $595,436 liability of “due to other funds — JCDA.” Commissioners have discussed for a couple months now the idea of approaching Washington County and Johnson City to ask for tax increment financing (TIF) funds to help eliminate that liability and pay back the JCDA account.
TIF has traditionally been used to help private sector businesses offset the costs of taking on expensive projects within the downtown area, so a large TIF award to JCDA would mark a departure from that.
Any request would have to be approved by the Washington County Commission after first going through JCDA’s TIF advisory committee and then the October full JCDA meeting, meaning it would be November before the county commission would consider it. JCDA commissioners haven’t arrived at a specific figure yet.
JCDA’s TIF account has more than $2 million in it.