By Scott Robertson
The John Sevier Hotel building, the largest edifice in downtown Johnson City, is now the property of the Johnson City Development Authority. The JCDA, which closed on the property last week, plans to keep the current property manager, M&M Properties, in place while hiring a developer to build new units for the current residents. The former hotel building is currently a subsidized housing apartment complex.
“We want to make sure that the building is clean and safe,” says Diana Cantler, director of downtown development for the JCDA. Much of the building’s interior is in a state of disrepair, and a significant amount of work is expected to be required. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development is due within 90 days to inspect the building. “We will do everything that HUD says we need to take care of.”
The JCDA plans to upgrade the current housing units in the short term, then provide alternative housing for the tenants and redevelop the entire building. Since the JCDA plans to relocate the current occupants of the building within the next couple of years, Cantler says, the authority does not plan to pay to have non-mandated work done that would run contrary to the planned end use of the facility. “We won’t spend an exorbitant amount of money repairing things in the building that are not necessary for the long term.
“We anticipate it’s going to be multi-use building, with the first floor retail,” Cantler says. “I would assume the lobby will be on the second floor, as it was originally. I anticipate a restaurant on the top floor where the ballroom was. And then in the middle it could be apartments. It could be condos. It could be office space. It just depends on what the market is in two to three years time.”
JCDA officials met with occupants of the building within days of the sale, listening to concerns and explaining plans for alternative housing development over the next couple of years. In order for the project to move forward, the current occupants must move to off-site housing which has yet to be built. Cantler says the JCDA is asking developers for proposals for locations and plans in that regard.
“The JCDA is not going to tell the developer where they have to build,” Cantler says. “That’s not our responsibility. We’ve helped to identify some properties, but we’re going to leave it up to the developer to choose where they will build. But we know because of HUD regulations, it has to be on a bus line. It has to be close to a grocery store. It has to be close to a pharmacy if possible. I think the developers who are out there have already been looking at places.”
Thus, the need for adequate repair and refit on the existing housing units, Cantler says. “My gut is it’s going to be two years to get that new housing built. I could be wrong. Somebody could come in and already have property and say, ‘we can do it in 18 months,’ but I think 24 months seems like a good projection – 24 to 28 months.”