Pinnacle developer hires Ramsey, seeks state law preventing Boones Creek business poaching

David Floyd • Updated Jan 13, 2020 at 8:30 PM

An area retail developer hired Tennessee’s former lieutenant governor to push for state legislation that would prevent existing businesses at his Bristol development from moving to the Boones Creek incentive district.

“All we care about is that they don’t poach from existing sites, period,” said Ron Ramsey, a lobbyist who confirmed Monday he was hired by Steve Johnson, developer of the Pinnacle shopping center in Bristol, Tennessee, to push for a rules change.

Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Commercial Development. He did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

Ramsey said he’s still in the preliminary phase of drawing up a policy and doesn’t have specifics at this time, but indicated an outcome of the legislation would be to ensure that businesses in existing border-region tourism districts don’t move to the incentive district in Boones Creek. He wants to guarantee that businesses won’t benefit from state tax breaks twice.

“You see industry all the time that will go somewhere for a tax break, that tax break runs out, then they go somewhere else,” he said. “That doesn’t do anybody any good.”

Ramsey said he’s supportive of the Boones Creek district and hopes it ends up recruiting businesses that don’t exist in the Tri-Cities area. He doesn’t believe the changes would hurt the Boones Creek district.

“They’ll move forward with what they’re planning on doing, and this will be more protective of state taxpayers as much as anything else,” he said.

“As long as they’re recruiting businesses that aren’t in the Pinnacle, it doesn’t hurt them at all,” he said later.

Johnson City commissioners are scheduled Thursday to consider the boundaries of the roughly 940-acre incentive district on third and final reading. The district, which will be located around Interstate 26’s Exit 17, would allow developers to apply for incentive money to offset the cost of tasks like property acquisition, design, engineering or construction on properties in the zone.

The incentives would be funded entirely through state sales tax revenue, but would be distributed by the city through agreements with individual developers. If approved by the City Commission, the district boundaries would then move to the state for final approval.

The legislation authorizing the Boones Creek incentive district was officially signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee in May. It’s modeled in large part off of the legislation that produced the Pinnacle — “The Border Region Retail Tourism Development District Act,” which was signed into law in 2011.

The legislation authorized the creation of incentive zones in areas near the state border. According to a 2016 article by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Bristol received a border zone stemming from this legislation in 2012, which allowed for the creation of the 200-acre, $150 million Pinnacle development.

Bass Pro Shop, Carmax and Marquee Cinemas Pinnacle 12 are among the Pinnacle’s major anchors.

The Boones Creek legislation contains a provision requiring existing businesses to increase the square footage of their footprint by at least 35% if they move to the new incentive district.

Responding to concerns about the possibility of the incentive district pulling existing business out of downtown Johnson City or the Mall at Johnson City, state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said Monday that the footprint requirement makes it cost prohibitive for businesses to relocate.

“I echo those concerns,” said Hill, who co-sponsored the Boones Creek legislation. “That’s why I made sure those types of safety mechanisms were in the bill.”