JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – As West Walnut Street development marches on, the City of Johnson City closed on a new piece of prime real estate in the area.
On Friday, July 15, the city became the new owner of 420 W Walnut St — a couple of acres of asphalt and concrete that represents another major investment along the street. An investment to the tune of $950 thousand, to be exact.
“The property in question became available in recent months, we noticed a foreclosure, notice of a pending sale in the legal notices,” said Joe Wise, mayor of the City of Johnson City “And through that process began a discussion, or a dialogue, with the property owners to see if there might be a willingness to sell.”
That price tag on a retail strip and paved lot may seem high, but rough appraisals valued the property at $995 thousand and the property has several killer features for the city.
“I think the long term use of this property is more about what it can be to a reimagined and refurbished Walnut Street than what it really is right now,” Wise said. “Its future uses are far greater than its current use.”
First of all, the parcel of land is boxed in by Ashe Street, Campbell Street, W Walnut Street and Earnest Street. From corner to corner, the city is free to do whatever it wants within the block (and zoning requirements) without worrying about neighbors.
Second, the plot is directly next to the Ashe Street Courthouse, which was recently transferred to the city after months of discussion and planning with Washington County. With the two plots bordering each other, city officials are free to turn Earnest Street into a pedestrian greenway as part of their plans for the corridor.
Third, every commercial district needs ample parking to support a large customer base at all times. With the new plot, the ground level provides dozens of spaces with easy access to downtown, the tree streets, and ETSU within reasonable walking distances. If the city wants to expand its capacity in the future, the potential for a garage or other structures comes to mind as well.
“Any parking lot on West Walnut Street is an especially valuable piece of asphalt,” Wise said. “Just given the scarcity of parking that’s available overall.”
With or without city use, Wise said it’s clear to the city that purchases along the corridor will pay off in time. As an investment property or parking lot, massive investment into West Walnut is expected to increase all values along the road.
“We bought it because we recognize it has value, and we also recognize that it has value that likely will increase when the public investment on Walnut Street is fully realized.”
An important part of the deal is the business promotion that infrastructure work creates, and Wise said the city is waiting to see other effects from the property’s new uses.
“The public sector can create the environment where the private sector can really drive what’s happening,” Wise said. “And there’s an awful lot of opportunity there and we’re just excited to be a small part of it.”