JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – In January 2020, Johnson City leaders approved the boundaries for the Boones Creek Development project. The proposed project was presented with the goal of bringing a number of retailers and attractions to the area.
Fast forward to February 2021, just over a year later, and lots the proposed project is set to occupy still sit empty. Questions surround the progress of the project with many residents wondering if it’s still even happening.
News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield has reached out to the developers of the project a few times over the past few months regarding the project and recently spoke with Johnson City leaders regarding the progress as well. According to the City Manager of Johnson City, Pete Peterson, the pandemic is partially to blame for the delay in progress, but at the same time, he said the delay in getting started is actually quite strategic.
“Everyone would have liked for it to have started immediately and just gone gangbusters, but unfortunately the pandemic stepped in and has really put a big delay on the project,” said Peterson.
Peterson said this kind of project has been a vision in the city’s plan for the past 15 years, only most recently becoming near reality in the past few years. While it’s not moving as fast as anyone involved in the project would prefer, he understands that the pandemic played a major role in the delay. In a time where running a business, let alone opening a new shop is uncertain, finding tenants for the project has posed a challenge.
Boones Creek is a hotbed for development. Years ago, the area was identified as a likely growth area, making it the perfect place to further develop with 947 acres that qualify for incentives from the state for retail and amusement.
With the Exit 17 interchange project nearing completion, traffic will soon be alleviated, making the area more attractive for retailers to move in. On top of the interchange project, two developments for retail are in the works along Boones Creek Road, according to the Johnson City Commission, one being the Boones Creek Development project, the other being the Promenade at Boones Creek.
Both developments are located within a mile of each other and both are eligible for tax incentives under Senate Bill 1434, stating once the project starts, they have 30 years to take advantage of those incentives.
“The commissioner of economic development, Bobby Rolfe, and the commissioner of revenue both have to agree that it’s a good thing for the state and a good thing for the district, overall a good plan. Once they do that, the 30 years starts running,” said Tennessee state Senator Rusty Crowe.
Crowe sponsored the legislation, also known as the “Regional Retail Tourism Development District Act”. In the bill summary, it’s stated that “The amendment provides for the establishment of regional retail tourism development districts within municipalities that border a neighboring state and provides for the allocation of certain revenue from the sales and use taxes to pay for the costs of any economic development project in such district.”
While there’s no timeline as to when a project must break-ground once approved, there is a time period for those eligible incentives, totaling 30 years. However, for both of these developments, that clock has yet to start.
“We’re giving the developers time to line up tenants and to get their deals put together before we go to the state and say okay, approve this and start the clock,” said Peterson.
Peterson said they don’t want to waste time until there is a solid line up of tenants and an outline of the plan that the state can’t say no to, and the same goes for the Promenade project. Peterson told News Channel 11 on Monday that he hasn’t spoken with the developer of that project in a few months but believes both developers of these current projects are working to line up tenants now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the pandemic.
“This thing could come together real quick probably in the next 2-4 weeks if everybody’s got everything lined up and they’re really ready to go. This is something we’ve been working on continually over the last 6, 8, 10 months,” he said.
Once these projects are approved by the state, Peterson estimates we could potentially see developments as early as 18-24 months. The new retailers in the area will have a huge impact on the local economy once completed by providing potentially hundreds of new jobs, according to Peterson.
“Think what the Pinnacle means for the Kingsport Bristol area, it would be similar but not really in competition with the pinnacle,” said Crowe.
However, at the end of the day, the city is at the mercy of these future businesses with no telling exactly these projects will be approved and when that 30-year clock will start.
“We’re trying to do all that we can to make Johnson City attractive and create incentives for new development in Johnson City, but it’s really up to the retailers as to when they’re ready to move,” said Peterson.
News Channel 11 reached out to the developers of the Boones Creek Development for a statement regarding progress and they were not ready to comment on the project at this time.
News Channel 11 also reached out to Steve Weston, the developer in charge of the Promenade at Boones Creek project. Weston said so far, the progress on the project has been “spectacular,” but COVID-19 did push back their timeline quite a bit.
PROMENADE AT BOONES CREEK
After further discussion with Weston, he said they want to bring local vendors into the community but also have a regional appeal, making the Promenade something people go out of their way to visit.
Part of the challenge in moving forward with the plan in recent months was finding an engineering firm, according to Weston. However, Weston told News Channel 11 he has found a firm in Ohio that has worked on similar scale projects in the Pigeon Forge area.
With 70 acres of land available, the tenant discussion has yet to be had. Weston said they’re currently working on drafting and finalizing an architectual draft of the design, then developing a 3D rendering of the project that they can present to potential tenants so they know exaclty what they’re signing up for.
Weston said while talks with tenants have yet to be finalized, discussions regarding popular grocers such as Publix and Trader Joe’s have emerged as possibilites for the Promenade development.
At this time, a possible anchor for the project that has expressed interest is a movie theater with the possibility of adding a “sight-seeing” attraction to go hand and hand with the theater.
Weston is planning for an entertainment and evetns center at the heart of the project such as bowling, mini-golf and potentially big names in the gaming industry like Dave and Buster’s. He’s also planning for food vendors and restaurants.
“We want people to go there and there is something for every member of their family,” said Weston.
He said he expects to have the first draft of the renderings ready by the end of February, soon after, moving to develop and finalize the 3D version to present to tenants and the community.
His rough estimate as to when the proposal could be ready to present to the state is 90 days.