Lights and water to celebrate the city's sesquicentennial

Robert Houk • Apr 19, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Members of Johnson City’s Sesquicentennial Commission said Wednesday they believe building a water fountain with dancing lights and music in King Commons may be a signature way to celebrate the city’s 150th birthday next year.

City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola told the group he agreed, and said a fountain with a light show and music would likely attract people from across the region.

“They would come from everywhere,” he said. “It would fill downtown.”

Commission members also said they want to kick off the yearlong sesquicentennial celebration with a big bash on New Year’s Eve, possibly held at either King Commons or Founders Park, and wrap up with an event unveiling their signature project at King Commons on Dec. 1, 2019, which is the date the city was officially chartered in 1869. In between, the Sesquicentennial Commission is looking to hold smaller events in connection with city festivals, such as Blue Plum, Little Chicago and Umoja.

Sesquicentennial Commissioner Donna Noland told her colleagues a fountain and light show on the weekends have become very popular in other cities.

“There is a financial return on investing in fountains and lights,” she said. “They also bring people together.”

Noland also suggested such as project could include a synthetic ice skating rink, like one in Anderson, S.C., which she said has become a crowd pleaser.

“We can make this as expensive as we want, or as simple as we want,” she said.

Sesquicentennial Commissioner Marci Walker said while she liked the idea of eventually adding an ice rink to the space, she said the signature project must be something the group could raise money for and build before Dec. 1, 2019.

She said other elements, such as the ice rink and a natural playground, could be added later.

“Whatever we do, we have to have a plan,” Walker said. “It’s like the stormwater work downtown. We didn’t eat the whole elephant in just one bite.”

Walker, who served on the City Commission when the city’s stormwater remediation plan was launched, said that work allowed the city to develop Founders Park and King Commons, as well as make improvements to downtown in phases.

She said a fountain and lights project would “help take the downtown to the next step.”

Pindzola said the project could cost as much as $500,000 to complete. Walker said the Sesquicentennial Commission could set a goal of raising half that amount if the City Commission would commit to funding the remainder.

Walker told her colleagues she is confident they would be successful in meeting that goal “once we have a firm vision.”