JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Numerous pieces would need to fall into place, but the recently vacated Downtown Centre could provide a temporary home for some East Tennessee State University functions over the next few years.
Johnson City Assistant City Manager Randy Trivette said ETSU is the potential tenant first mentioned on July 28 at a Johnson City Development Authority (JCDA) meeting. The JCDA owns the Downtown Centre, which was leased by Northeast State Community College from 2015 until the beginning of this month.
We’re still very early in the fact gathering stage of this,” Trivette said Tuesday. “We’ve met with ETSU down there to let them walk through.”
The university is embarking on several major construction projects that could create a need for some temporary space. They include a complete demolition of the Campus Center building, which will be replaced by a new larger facility, and major renovations of Burleson Hall and Brown Hall.
“We’re just going to be moving people around as we complete these projects in the next 24 months,” ETSU spokeswoman Jessica Vodden said Tuesday.
“We walked through the Downtown Centre building as a possibility, and that’s as far as we’ve gotten,” she said, adding that if timelines fall a certain way, it’s conceivable no off-campus space would be needed at all.
Northeast State elected to vacate its campus when JCDA said it needed to increase the $1,000 monthly lease rate to something in the neighborhood of $30,000 a month.
If the ETSU deal materializes it could offer an ideal timeline, Trivette said. JCDA will be looking to market the former John Sevier Hotel — currently home to 100-plus apartments for low-income disabled and elderly residents — in early 2026 after a new complex for those residents is completed on South Roan Street.
The John Sevier is adjacent to the Downtown Centre and its 345-space parking garage and JCDA board members have said is buyer may very well want to own the Downtown Centre as well, or at least have some control over parts of the parking garage.
“That’s why we’re looking at doing a (request for proposals) for someone to give us the best and highest use of the property for the John Sevier but that also encompasses that entire downtown area,” Trivette said, adding that the city wants to use data to determine that.
“The parking garage is a key component to that because parking is such a premium.”