By Gary Gray
Yet another playful downtown amenity is about to emerge from what originally was a practical solution for flooding problems when Johnson City’s 3-acre King Commons is completed in July.
Public Works Department Director Phil Pindzola sat calmly with the News & Neighbor last week and surveyed yet another storm water fix that also will serve the public and stimulate private investment because of the latter.
“I’d be surprised if it ever floods again on Market Street,” Pindzola said with relaxed confidence.
That statement likely would have been scoffed at and considered wishful thinking in 2007 when city officials began formulating a plan that resulted in Founders Park and the reshaping of Brush Creek. Since then, about 2,000 feet of Brush and King creeks have been opened up. Detention ponds have been created and a major culvert and piping system is all but complete that will allow flood water to ebb and flow without destruction to downtown businesses.
Bill Wade, a bicyclist from Kingsport, suddenly rolled up as if on cue. He did not know Pindzola, and he had not been following “the plot.”
“I love the stone walls, and that fact the creek (King Creek) has been widened,” Wade said while glancing around the construction site. “I love Founders Park, and I’d come here too. It looks great, and it’s going to eliminate the heart of the flooding.”
As Wade rode off, Pindzola said: “Everybody’s been so positive.”
King Commons, which has gone by several names, including the Event Commons, Downtown Plaza, and King Creek Basin, has become more than a location where King Creek has been opened up and tied in to the old Brush Creek drainage route to alleviate flooding.
Like Founders Park, the floodwater mitigation project along King Creek will be more than a utilitarian detention pond.
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.
Water in King Creek flows under North Boone Street and connects with water channeled in what formerly was Brush Creek (now an underground storm water connector/feeder). The two join at the center point of what is now a large detention basin.
Thomas Construction is being paid $1.6 million to produce a park-like setting with an area in front of the Johnson City Public Library that could end up being an amphitheater or ice rink. There also will be a large mural painted on a wall near Atlantic Ale House, and the Johnson City Public Art Committee will solicit artists to design the railings.
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. The same material has been suggested for placement in the areas where runoff flows into the basin from Commerce and McClure streets.
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, will be built. More spaces will be created after construction, and the portion of Commerce Street fronting the park will be repaved.
Meanwhile, redevelopment is planned for building along Commerce, including a new art gallery, lofts and various commercial enterprises.
“The second floor of Morrell Music likely will also be turned into lofts,” Pindzola said. “We also are still thinking about placing ready rock (stone blocks) along the green space near the library, and we’ve been considering creating more parking spaces along King Street.”
The fundraising campaign to restore the former U-Haul sign at King Commons has produced about $30,000, all from private donations and pledges. The Johnson City Development Authority approved a design that reflects the city’s railroad heritage. The total cost is estimated at about $86,000.
In 2012, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Seeley ruled Johnson City had a right to condemn and possess the downtown U-Haul property and to incorporate it into the city’s $30 million, long-range flood mitigation plan.
U-Haul attorneys argued the city was attempting to use eminent domain to generate tax revenue instead of taking the property to help with downtown flood mitigation. City attorneys were tasked with showing the condemnation and following flood remediation project was intended for “public use.” Pindzola slowly turned his head and smiled when reminded of the legal tussle.