In retrospect, residents of Johnson City might see 2021 as a year of transition.
City commissioners welcomed a new city manager and officially embarked on a complex construction project on West Walnut Street designed to boost commercial activity in the downtown area.
New City Manager
After 30 years with the city and 16 years as a principal administrator, chief executive Pete Peterson announced in March his intention to retire at the end of 2021.
After a months-long research process that included interviews with five finalists, Johnson City commissioners selected Cathy Ball, deputy city manager in Asheville, to become the next city manager. She is the first woman to hold this position. His first day was Monday, December 20.
Ball grew up in Erwin, went to Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, and started his first job in Johnson City with an engineering consulting firm. She worked for the city of Greenville, SC for nine years as an Assistant City Engineer.
Ball joined Asheville in 1997 as a municipal engineer before becoming director of engineering and transportation, director of public works and finally deputy general manager in 2013.
After spending 24 years working for the city of Asheville, Ball said in October that she would bring her knowledge of affordable housing management, homelessness and downtown development to Johnson City.
“I think I bring with me some experience of what went well and what didn’t go so well,” Ball said, “and I hope we’ll be able to give some recommendations to the commission on things they might want to avoid, or things that might really add value to the community.
Rehabilitation of West Walnut Street
Johnson City began a roughly $ 30 million redesign of West Walnut Street this year, a project designed to boost investment along the corridor and strengthen the connection between the downtown area and East Tennessee State University.
The two-year project will consist of replacing utilities and demolishing the existing streetscape, replacing it with a more pedestrian-friendly pavement. The new street will have bicycle lanes and on-street parking. The city hired Summers-Taylor Inc. to build the project.
The company will cause permanent changes in traffic patterns around West Walnut Street. The city, for example, purchased the Harman Ice & Cold Storage building at 724 W. Walnut St. with the intention of demolishing the structure and constructing a road from Franklin State to West Walnut Street.
Crews are currently completing utility works related to the project, which has resulted in the closure of roads and lanes on State of Franklin Road, Sevier Street and West Watauga Avenue.
Before the changes, businesses flocked to the corridor. Tennessee Hills Distillery, a mainstay of Jonesborough, is spending millions of dollars to expand its footprint on West Walnut Street.
The city is also renovating the old Ashe Street courthouse with the intention of turning the building into a small business development center. The city has received $ 5 million from the state to renovate the building, which it is due to spend by June 30.
Washington County, which owns the courthouse, has expressed interest in eventually transferring ownership to Johnson City.
Haven of Mercy
In early 2021, Johnson City announced plans to temporarily close the Haven of Mercy homeless shelter until the owner can fix the code violations that have caused safety concerns for residents.
After a legal standoff with the Haven, Johnson City instead opted to downsize the shelter to around half of its capacity, an occupancy limit that lasted most of the year.
Among other fixes, according to city officials, the shelter created a fire separation between floors of its main building and upgraded the property’s electrical and fire alarm systems.
The shelter is now nearing completion with repairs, and city officials have said they hope to lift the capacity limit at the next housing standards and review board meeting in January.