Two parks control floods, host families

Nathan Baker • Mar 30, 2019 at 9:59 PM

Though relatively new to Johnson City’s parks offerings, Founders Park and King Commons are doing some heavy lifting.

Both along Commerce Street downtown, the two greenspaces pull double-, triple- and quadruple-duties controlling floodwater, hosting festivals, providing meeting and recreation areas and improving area residents’ quality of life.

The two were among the city’s top priorities for years, as the municipality collected land along Brush Creek for a large-scale floodwater mitigation project.

First came Founders, which took the place of a row of dilapidated warehouses. The city razed the buildings and deepened and expanded the creek’s channel to accommodate more water. Workers then built walkways and an amphitheater and planted grass and trees.

What was once a block of eyesore with a confined creek running underneath is now a space for the whole community. Events like the Blue Plum Festival and the Meet the Mountains Festival draw thousands to the park each year, while smaller groups meet at Founders for yoga, strength and endurance training and relaxing.

The Pavilion at Founders, a covered and paved space next door, is home to the weekly Johnson City Farmers Market in the warmer months, the annual Thirsty Orange Beer Festival and many other events through the year.

Its sister park down the street, King Commons, was more of a struggle for the city to complete, or rather, securing the land was.

To build the park, the city needed land owned by U-Haul, but the moving truck rental company didn’t want to leave. U-Haul had been in the downtown location for decades, and fought the city’s attempts to acquire the property through the condemnation and eminent domain process.

The legal fight went to court, and the judge eventually sided with the city. U-Haul moved to a former Lowe’s Home Improvement store on Roan Street in North Johnson City.

As the city began tearing down the buildings on the property, a group of residents began a campaign to save U-Haul’s 50-foot sign. City leaders were reluctant to spend money on refurbishing the giant sign, but allowed the boosters to hold a fundraising drive to pay for it through donations.

Now, instead of advertising moving trucks, the lighted sign proudly displays the city’s name high above most of the downtown buildings and is visible from the interstate. Those who fought to save it envisioned the sign as a beacon and landmark letting everyone know where they were.

The park at its feet ain’t too shabby either, and soon will be the site for the city’s Sesquicentennial legacy project celebrating the 150th anniversary of Johnson City’s founding.

Project leaders say the new park will be “multi-generational and all-inclusive” where families can gather downtown.