When Dr. Brian Noland took over as president of ETSU back in 2012, he had a valuable opportunity to sit down with his predecessors and get the lay of the land.
During the course of those discussions with Dr. Paul Stanton and Dr. Roy Nicks, Nicks gave Noland a nugget of information pertaining to the Millennium Centre.
“Dr. Nicks reminded me, ‘Brian, when we were building all of this, the thought was that it would transfer to the university. File that away,’ ” Noland recalled.
On Friday, Noland and Johnson City city manager Pete Peterson made a joint announcement that the time had come for the city’s Public Building Authority to sell the building and the adjacent parking garage to ETSU for $5.8 million. The Johnson City Commission approved the purchase agreement last Thursday night, which sparked a flurry of moves by the city government and the PBA to clear the way for the transfer, which both sides hope is completed by Oct. 1.
Peterson estimated that the sides were already two-thirds of the way through the process of completing the transfer by the time he and Noland met the media late Friday afternoon. The commission’s resolution freed up mayor David Tomita to break the city’s lease with the Public Building Authority, which has managed and operated the Millennium Centre on behalf of the city since the facility first opened. Other agreements – such as the one between the city and the state for the pedestrian bridge that crosses University Parkway – were also broken to clear the way for the deal to go through.
On Friday morning, the PBA met and gave its chairman authority to terminate a number of agreements they had in place with ETSU, the VA and the Carnegie Hotel.
“All of the local approvals have been made as of this afternoon, and at this point, the approval process moves to the state level,” Peterson said.
While Noland said it’s impossible to guarantee smooth sailing at the state level, he emphasized that the state has been kept apprised of negotiations between the city and the university, so he doesn’t anticipate any roadblocks.
“We’ve executed every step of this in conjunction with our partners in Nashville,” Noland said.
One potential hang-up, at least on the local level, is a contractual requirement that the PBA must give Sodexo – which operates the Millennium Centre on behalf of the PBA – a 90-day notice before terminating the agreement. With both sides eyeing an Oct. 1 transfer date, Sodexo will have to wave that clause to clear the way for the deal to go through.
“(Sodexo was) involved in a conversation earlier today where we established the Oct. 1 transaction date, and they are verbally amiable to that,” Peterson said. “We still need to get the final contract documents approved, but we see no reason that the Oct. 1 date won’t be obtainable.”
For those who have events scheduled at the Millennium Centre in the near future, Noland gave his assurance that those will go on as planned. In fact, he said the public will likely notice little difference once the sale is complete.
While the long-term goal will be to establish new academic programs and expand existing ones in the Millennium Centre, Noland foresees public use of the building continuing as it does with other on-campus facilities.
“One of the things I’m proud of is the partnership we’ve built with the city that really looks at facilities as community facilities, not city facilities or ETSU facilities,” he said. “These spaces are community spaces. It just comes down to the matter of scheduling.”
For the city, the sale of the Millennium Centre will free up some capital that can be used on other projects, most notably a redevelopment of Walnut Street that is projected to cost as much as $15 million. Peterson estimates that the sale of the Millennium Centre will free up approximately $2 million per year in the city’s general fund between now and 2022 with a projected annual savings of $600,000 from that point forward.
As the Millennium Centre prepares to start a new chapter, Peterson said the venture has been a success by any measure.
“What we have done is we’ve got an economic engine developed and on its feet,” Peterson said. “It’s now time for that economic project to have a new owner that can take it to new heights while we redirect our funding into other redevelopment projects in the city.
“I think both parties can honestly sit here today and say we both won in this deal.”