By Gary Gray
Johnson City’s latest downtown gem, King Commons, is nearing completion and now offers visual confirmation to passersby of its practical and aesthetically pleasing intent.
The 3-acre public amenity began as a solution for flooding problems, but the storm water fix has blossomed into what should be a Founders Park-like people-pleaser that also stimulates private investment around its periphery. Redevelopment and various business ventures already are in the works along Commerce Street, including a new art gallery, lofts and various commercial enterprises.
“The contractor is about 95-percent complete, and they are now finishing the sidewalks,” said Public Works Department Director Phil Pindzola, who also expressed confidence that nearby businesses on Market Street may never again have to deal with flooding issues. “Construction of King Street continues, and we (Public Works) won’t be finished with our portion until sometime this fall.”
In 2007, city officials began formulating a plan that resulted in Founders Park (along State of Franklin Road) 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.
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. Today, visitors likely would have to inquire as to the park’s original purpose.
“Trees have been planted and boulders have been sited (placed), so the project is moving along quite well,” Pindzola said. “The railing that will go along the edges of the basin where the stone wall are 4-feet high and above are being fabricated and should be installed in mid-September.
“The electric and water lines are in. We’ve ripped up Commerce Street, and we’re working with property owners and utilities to install conduit. The sign (reconstructed from the frame of the former U-Haul sign) will have a 12-foot-tall concrete layer with a stone overlay which will include inserts (for naming and other purposes).”
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, which got the go-ahead from city commissioners in December 2016, 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. A large, bright mural reflecting the region’s wildlife and history has been painted on a wall near Atlantic Ale House, and the Johnson City Public Art Committee has solicited 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.
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.