By Gary Gray
A South Carolina company is nearing the purchase of 37 acres along Bristol Highway owned by Joe Wilson – a transaction that could halt further discussions among Johnson City officials to incorporate the property into a new 62-acre athletic facility adjacent to Winged Deer Park.
“Joe has been working with the South Carolina group, and they are getting real close,” said David Sanders with The Brokers Realty and Auction. “They came in on Wednesday, and they want to develop condominiums on that property. The city has looked at the property, but they haven’t come to us lately.”
Wilson declined comment, citing his desire for confidentiality.
“Joe has explained to me that he’s got a potential buyer that wants to develop residential on that property, and he’s been in discussions with them,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. He’s had the property for sale for multiple years. We were charged with looking at that property as part of a potential plan to build a new sports complex.
“We’re just doing our due diligence. It would be ideal if we could expand at Winged Deer, especially along the Bristol Highway. I would love it if we could have that piece of property, but it’s a prime piece of real estate, and development there certainly would help bring tax revenues to the city.”
Peterson said Wilson’s property was appraised about two years ago at $40,000 per acre, or $1.48 million.
“From what Mr. Wilson has told me, his asking price is now significantly higher,” Peterson said.
On Nov. 2, Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl, Parks and Recreation Director James Ellis and Daniel Boutte, a senior landscape architect with Knoxville’s Lose & Associates, revealed to Johnson City commissioners a preliminary concept plan that included an $18 million facility just south of Winged Deer.
At the end of that meeting, it was agreed the total cost of the Wilson property, the purchase of an additional 25 acres owned by Heyward Sell and the grading, construction and startup costs of the new facility would bring the total to an estimated $22.5 million.
The Wilson property includes frontage on Bristol Highway near Winged Deer. The Sell property sits further back on a rather steep grade. The estimated price for both properties is about $2.5 million.
The preferred plan – generated from an obvious need for additional diamond-shaped fields to serve both citizens and traveling tournaments – showed five baseball fields grouped together, two smaller softball/baseball (all grass) fields nearby, two soccer fields, a lot with 400 parking spaces, a picnic area, pavilion, playground, concessions/restrooms, a maintenance building and three detention ponds.
Ellis said at the meeting that most national softball tournaments bring over 100 teams, and that additional fields would help take care of citizens, draw tournaments and create a return on investment. Placement of the new facility next to Winged Deer also would create a one-stop-shop atmosphere, increase money spent in the area and give players the luxury of not having to continue to pick up and move to another location, he added.
Ellis said Thursday only that he was aware other parties were interested in the property.
Johnson City Finance Director Janet Jennings said at the meeting an 11-cent property tax rate increase would be needed to fund the new facility.
Jennings also confirmed the city could buy the properties this fiscal year without a tax hike. She then proceeded to lay out the city’s bonding capacities (maximum) which revealed the estimated cost could be paid for in stages through bond roll-off and with a final bond issue in 2021 to cover the total.
Options include a partnership with Washington County, which is building an athletic facility near the new Boones Creek K-8. That plan includes four diamond-shaped fields and one rectangular field.
A task force continues to explore the options on this facility estimated to cost the county $8 million, including land purchase, grading and prep work and construction of the athletic components.
County Mayor Dan Eldridge, via task force co-chair Clarence Mabe, introduced a few new propositions at the group’s second gathering on Nov. 6. These included the city paying for all lighting and irrigation costs, as well as providing maintenance on the fields.
A second workshop regarding the potential purchase of the Bristol Highway properties and construction of the facility adjacent to Winged Deer Park was set for sometime in December.