By Gary Gray
Johnson City’s new 3-acre downtown amenity, King Commons, is getting its finishing touches, including bright, handcrafted railings above the culverts at Brush and King creeks.
The Memphis Metal Museum’s Jim Masterson, master blacksmith and shop foreman, and Lewis Body, a designer who created the artful additions, were at the site at West King and Commerce streets last week assembling the bright blue decorative railing meant to represent pollination.
“This is all mild steel, and it was designed and partially assembled at the nonprofit museum,” Masterson said. “We are the only strictly metals museum in the country, and we get funding from grants and donations. We do everything from public art to commissioned work, and we do a lot of outdoor projects.”
Masterson said all the parts and pieces were “fired,” or heated, and forged by hand. The shapes of bees in flight grace the sides of the railings, with bends in the steel that emulate the bee’s flight, or path. The team also is placing handmade steel Coneflowers, Irises and Milkweed along the railings, which also were forged beforehand.
“The flowers are indigenous to the area, and everything has been touched by fire and shaped,” Masterson said. “They wanted something that incorporated some of the local flowers, as well as pollination.”
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“The thing that made it tough was originally we thought it was going to be a total of 300 feet,” Masterson said. “But some of the curbs were cut back and the survey was replotted. In the end, we probably made 35 percent more materials.”
Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said the Johnson City Public Art Committee conducted a national search to find the right match.
“Three firms were given an idea of what we wanted and a $120,000 cap,” Pindzola sad. “The Memphis Metal Museum drew it up, and we okayed about $118,000 for the project this past spring. This really compliments the mural done by Asheville’s Ian Brownlee on the wall near the Atlantic Ale House.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited new sign will be getting a concrete band around the fresh brick at the bottom of the supports. Lettering will then be placed on each band reading “King Commons.” Pindzola said a children’s park is being considered for placement in front of the Johnson City Public Library, which sits across the street. A bricked area that will serve as an amphitheater has been completed on what was formerly West King Street. Lighted water fountains at an area near the amphitheater may also be on the way.
In mid-December, city crews began ripping up and hauling away old asphalt and concrete at the 3-acre space. Since that time, both creek beds have been dredged and widened and a large basin has been created.
Thomas Construction was awarded $1.6 million to produce a park-like setting. Land acquisition, design and engineering, grading and other work has cost about $1.3 million. Construction will bring the estimated total to about $2.9 million.
The design incorporates walkways made with Van Gogh iridescent materials, which absorb sunlight during the day and glow at night. Stone walls will grace the park’s plaza and at points along the walkway nearest King Street, at three bridges and along a wall behind Campbell’s Morrell Music on West Market Street, which will be illuminated at night.
Smaller walls that will be constructed in a semi-circular position at the plaza, known as “seat walls” will allow for just that. These same walls will be placed on a portion of the walkway nearest King Street. An additional 60 parking spaces — 30 near King Street and 30 on Commerce Street at the park’s main entrance, have been created, and more spaces will be created after construction.