May 3, 2012

From Johnson City Press, May 3, 2012

Gary B. Gray – Press Staff Writer

The $4.5 million Founders Park project is back in swing.

What began as, and still is, a piece of Johnson City’s long-term flood remediation plan, the project has turned into a bit more than the opening up of Brush Creek. It has morphed into a multi-functional piece of city-owned land meant to both help flooding problems and give citizens and visitors a pleasing place to walk or just take a break.

The city has begun leveling the last of Lewis Wexler’s Free Service Tire warehouses, and construction on the project could begin in July.

Knoxville’s Lamar Dunn & Associates has designed a park/retention facility that stretches from Sevier Street to Wilson Avenue. The city plans to let the public submit suggestions for the final naming of what has been known as Warehouse Commons and Founders Park — a project identified years ago by the city’s Stormwater Task Force and the Economic Development Council as necessary to help alleviate flooding problems at various sections of Brush Creek.

“The next step is looking at bids,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works Department director. “Hopefully, construction will begin in July, and we should be finished sometime in early summer of next year. Construction is estimated to cost roughly $3 million. Acquisition and design costs total an additional $1.5 million.”

After years of consideration, negotiations, changes, reconfigurations and rejection, commissioners voted unanimously last year to use stormwater fee revenues to purchase some of the Free Service Tire property.

Pindzola said Wexler was paid $494,000 for the properties and $123,000 for relocation. Wexler’s asking price for four properties and relocation expenses came to about $816,000 — less than half as much as his original request of about $1.7 million.

The money eventually paid to Wexler excludes his West Market Street building.

The project includes opening up Brush Creek, which will flow through the center of the park, and includes a waterfall and pond. On-street parking is planned for Lamont Street and there will be several locations that may end up supporting public art.

Bike racks, a drinking fountain, an information kiosk and benches are planned for an entrance at the intersection of Wilson and Lamont. These amenities also will be offered at the intersection of Sevier and West State of Franklin Road, and a fence will separate the nearby railroad track from the park. Walkways, a bridge crossing the creek, a large greenspace and landscaping also are planned.

“We’re considering closing Wilson during construction,” Pindzola said. “We’re also looking at some options, including extending the park out (toward downtown) by putting in a farmer’s market and an amphitheater to be used as an event space.”

Meanwhile, U-Haul is fighting the city’s condemnation of its downtown property for use as a much larger stormwater project. The property’s value was established at $820,000 based on an independent appraisal, but U-Haul rejected the offer.

The company is contesting the matter in Washington County Circuit Court, claiming the property is not being taken under eminent domain for the public good but for private economic development and commercial enterprise.

The area would temporarily be used to construct a large detention pond to catch floodwater from King Creek. Plans are to eventually create an open creek that will run through the middle of the area commonly known — in development terms — as the Event Commons, where greenspace and storefronts for businesses would also be created.