JOHNSON CITY, Tennessee (WJHL) – Almost 20 years after an earlier “master plan,” 60 acres in prime Johnson City location are set to get infrastructure leaders to say they should launch the development.
“Now is the time,” Johnson City city manager Pete Peterson told News Channel 11 of the land called “Innovation Park,” which is partly owned by the city and partly owned by East Tennessee State University.
“Technology is evolving even faster than it ever has. We have a number of ETSU students and graduates leaving this region because there are no job opportunities available for them.
The land is a stone’s throw west of Johnson City Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. It is bounded by West Market Street to the north, McKinley Road to the south, and the CSX railway line to the west.
For Innovation Park to reach its greatest potential, the leaders of Johnson City and ETSU will need to work hand in hand – each has 30 acres of adjoining property, which a new road will cut in half.
“I think the city and the university are working together in a way we never had decades ago,” said Jeremy Ross, ETSU chief operating officer.
“I have been here for 31 years now and the level of cooperation between the city and the university has been at different levels over the years,” he said.
“At the moment, I have the impression that the cooperation with the university is at an all time high. Things work really well together.
City officials recently approved a $ 346,500 contract for an engineering firm to design infrastructure on its 30 acres. This land, which once housed a National Guard armory, has no building on it.
The adjacent ETSU property, which relies on Fresh Market and several medical facilities, has a few clinical buildings, but a large area remaining. It once housed the operations of the Marine Corps.
The rulers’ goal for the land is to attract research, medical and commercial uses that generate high paying jobs.
“If we could have one result, this would be it,” said Ross. “Better health care, better research, better university infrastructure and better jobs and economic improvement for the region. “
The concept has been beaten around for years. The objectives of a 2003 master plan for the Johnson City Med-Tech Corridor ‘Intermediate Anchor Point’ were to ‘develop a high quality mixed-use innovation park for research, education, offices and flex-tech uses “.
Financial goals at the time? “Develop uses that will employ and house people in high-quality, well-paying jobs” and “recognize that long-term return is more important than short-term return.”
Peterson said the need for a long-term vision remains, but hopes a “long-term” is finally in sight.
“There are going to be a lot of opportunities that will present themselves quickly that need to be considered, some of which are probably not the best investment in the long term,” said Peterson. “And there will be times when we have to say ‘no’ to certain offers to wait for a better offer for the community.”
Yet he calls development – which is guided on the city side by the Public Building Authority – a “given.”
“That is going to take time. But with the state of the local economy and the advancement of technology and the interest of people moving here, I think the time has really come that there will be huge success there within a span of time. reasonable time.
A long time to come
The Innovation Park is, or will be, the “middle ground” of the Johnson City Med-Tech Corridor.
Med Tech Park and Millennium Park are the northern and southern anchors of the corridor, respectively.
“The North and South Anchors are now complete and are doing extremely well in promoting and improving job creation, health care delivery and education extension in our community,” said Peterson.
Intermediate anchoring became possible in the 1990s when Johnson City and the U.S. government agreed to move the Marine Corps Reserve and Tennessee National Guard Armory buildings to a new facility in Gray on property the city had. purchased.
“In return, the 60 acres known as Innovation Park were to come to the city,” Peterson said.
But the federal process determined education to be a high priority, and the 30 acres that once housed Marine Corps property have moved from the federal government to the ETSU.
Tennessee controlled the other 30 acres. Almost 20 years ago, Peterson and ETSU President Dr Paul Stanton agreed that the land would be under city control “in recognition of our investment in making this property available for other uses. “.
“We are bound by this agreement to jointly agree on a master plan and site development for the Innovation Park, which sits on the 30 acres to the west.”
Ross of the ETSU said the two entities will work closely and also collaborate with Ballad Health.
“We’re in that ‘what if’ stage,” Ross said. “What if or if this type of land use occurs and on what parcel of land? “
While medical, research and academic uses take priority, he said some “mixed uses” – including retail and housing – are possible.
“I would say that the housing, the other rooms would be on the property of the city and that of the university would be linked more to medical, educational and research initiatives,” he said.
Ross said that once roads, fiber optic cable, stormwater and other infrastructure begin to be completed, buildings could start to rise from the ground soon after. And he anticipates that this infrastructure will be put in place “in the very near future”.
“I think we are absolutely on the verge, in the next 24 to 36 months, of having more earthen buildings.”
The main players on the ETSU side will be the state – it owns the property and helps pay for the buildings – and the College of Medicine, health programs and architects and engineers as land use is planned. .
Ross said close and continued collaboration with the city will be essential.
“I think the city and the university are inextricably linked,” he said. “So the use of land and the way it supports each other’s initiatives must lead us towards the same goal. “
He said that finally moving forward is very exciting.
“Where can you have a property in the urban core that has fiber, roads, stormwater and is ready to expand? So I think it will be unique. I think the demand will be high.
If it keeps talented graduates in the area and helps kickstart new business development, Peterson said the concept would have been successful.
“We have money to redevelop the Ashe Street courthouse and what we plan to do there is create an entrepreneur center, a center for start-ups and small businesses where they can. come together and develop solid business plans and get involved with investors, ”he said.
“They’re going to need a place to house their businesses, so ownership of the innovation park is a natural place… that small businesses and start-ups could occupy and be able to grow as their businesses grow. develop. “
Could any of these contractors or medical / technical professionals live in the park? With plenty of shopping nearby and the ability to hop on bike paths and reach other parts of town, Peterson said it was possible.
“What is envisioned now is a type of mixed-use development where you could live close to your workplace,” he said.
The result, of course, is the result of the community. Peterson and Ross said that’s why Ballad Health and the VA will also be at the table.
“ETSU, the VA, and Ballad Health are kind of our three-legged stool,” Peterson said.
“It’s the majority of our local economy and we need to work together, support and cooperate with each other to ensure the success of everyone who lives here in Johnson City.”