West Walnut Street could look vastly different in 20 years if city follows master plan

Zach Vance • May 15, 2018 at 11:22 PM

If Johnson City officials choose to follow the West Walnut Street redevelopment plan exactly as prescribed by their consultants, the corridor would be virtually unrecognizable from the way it looks today.

Not to mention, many of the existing businesses on Walnut Street would either be replaced or repurposed for residential housing, retail units or greenspace for floodwater mitigation, according to consultant Kimley-Horn’s proposed land use diagram.

It’s unlikely Johnson City officials will implement every one of the consultant’s suggestions, and even if they did follow it closely, the redevelopment of West Walnut Street has been billed as a long-term plan, spanning 20 years or more.

The city awarded Kimley-Horn a $221,500 contract to complete the master plan for West Walnut Street, and the expert’s advice was based largely on stakeholder suggestions and community feedback.

Among the dozens of current structures lining the one-mile street, the consultant’s land-use plan suggested keeping just 16 existing buildings, but Commissioner Joe Wise said Walnut Street business owners shouldn’t be disheartened by the 20-year proposal because it’s just that: a proposal.

“It’s important to know it’s a 20-year plan, and it represents sort of a broad-brush approach to how to maximize the development of the West Walnut Street corridor to it’s highest and best use. Will it look exactly like that? No. But it certainly won’t look anything like that if we don’t have a plan,” Wise, who also served as chairman of the West Walnut Street task force, said.

“This is one of those things where if you’re somebody who is impatient with projects that take time, this kind of project can seem ‘pie in the sky.’ But this is the kind of project where if you don’t begin it today, you won’t have it in 10, 20 or 30 years.

“We’re not looking to run anybody out of that area. It’s not in our interest to do that, and there’s really no real motivation to do that absent creating the environment in which incentives and opportunity can unfold.”

Wise said it’s possible the city might one day look to buy land along the corridor to fulfill some of the master plan, but he said it’s also possible the city finds a property owner who agrees to relinquish some land in exchange for city investment in stormwater improvements.

Here are a few of the proposals outlined in the Walnut Street master plan for land use and proposed structures, which were unveiled by the consultant on Monday at One Acre Cafe:

• Beginning on the west end of Walnut Street, at the intersection of University Parkway, residential units would replace the current McDonald’s and former college bookstore. The former Poor Richard’s location would be changed into a retail establishment, as would the Campus Square shopping center.

• Moving east, Cherokee Street would be extended past Walnut Street, straight through the Harmon Ice & Cold Storage Company building, to connect with State of Franklin Road. The consultants believe extending Cherokee Street will aide traffic distribution along Walnut Street, especially at the corner of University Parkway.

• A large stormwater park is being proposed where Harmon Ice & Cold Storage currently sits to mitigate flooding in the area. In addition, the consultants envision a new “gateway park” at the Summers Hardware & Supply Company location, near the corner of State of Franklin, Sevier Street and Ashe Street.

• The planners proposed retail establishments at the O.G. Kelley property, next to the stormwater park.

• Retail and residential units would replace the stretch of food establishments, including the Subway, Papa John’s, the former Alley Kat’s Sandwich Shop and the Italian Pizza Pub.

• USA Karate and the AirGas locations would be replaced with office and mixed-use facilities. The Mill would house office and retail space.

• Preston Woodworking, the Firehouse Restaurant and Tri-City Rubber & Gasket were all proposed as being retail establishments, as were Tupelo Honey and the Shamrock Beverage & Tobacco Shop.

• Ashe Street would be extended west and would eventually tie back into Walnut Street near The Family Skate Center location, which would be replaced with small residential housing units.

• A large mixed-use facility would take the place of the current HomeTrust Bank location and its adjacent parking lot.

• The old Johnson City post office building would become a civic facility with frontage to the “gateway park.”

The consultants are still gathering feedback about the type of streetscape for Walnut Street, either one with two parking lanes on each side or one with a single bike lane and a single parking lane.

Kimley-Horn officials are expected to submit their final report to Johnson City in approximately two months, as well as an action plan detailing the first steps of implementation.

Eds. Note: When Kimley-Horn suggested retail establishments for West Walnut Street, that included restaurants.   




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