Development authority under contract to buy Sevier Center

Nathan Baker • Oct 20, 2018 at 12:16 AM

Johnson City Development Authority board chair Robert Williams said Friday a purchase contract has been signed with the owners of the John Sevier Center that should soon put the historic building in the agency’s hands.

The $4.1 million contract, which was approved by the board last month and has now been signed by representatives of the JCDA and the current owners, is now in the due diligence phase, which could take up to 90 days while a third-party representative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspects the property, Williams said.

Multiple inspections by the federal agency showed residents in the former hotel’s 150 units living in unsafe conditions, and current owner East Tennessee Limited Partnership was near losing its contract with HUD to receive subsidies for residents’ rents. By buying the 10-story building, development authority leaders said they hoped to bring the units up to acceptable conditions, help transition residents to new housing facilities elsewhere in the city and then sell the Sevier Center to a commercial developer.

“We want to make sure the people who live there now are taken care of,” Williams said Friday after the development authority’s monthly meeting. “When they’re in a situation like now where there are a lot of out of town owners, as opposed to us, they’re just not going to take care of the people and the building like we would.”

Once the authority owns the building, leaders plan to partner with Johnson City and HUD to find private developers willing to build new housing or repurpose existing facilities in the city and move residents to them over the next two to three years.

The authority’s board members have developed a list of amenities they’d like developers to include at the new facilities to make sure the residents don’t lose access to essential services.

Williams said ideally, residents will have their choices of multiple smaller locations, instead of having a high density of people concentrated in the same building. He said the board also would like to see community rooms, greenspaces, clinics and other spaces for service organizations to operate in the communities. One aspect Williams listed as a requirement last month was reliable access to public transportation on site.

Some developers have already contacted development authority representatives expressing interest in or sharing ideas for implementation of the residential plan, Williams said, though he said it was still too early in the process to begin work on those development plans.

After the current residents are properly accommodated, development authority members believe the Sevier Center building will be an important part of downtown Johnson City’s redevelopment.

They believe properly applied commercial businesses, including possibly condominiums, apartments, office space retail shops, restaurants and hotel rooms, could turn the historic building into a central anchor of business activity in the city’s core.

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