By Dave Ongie
When the Johnson City Commission formed the Sesquicentennial Commission to plan a celebration of the city’s 150th birthday, city commissioners urged the nine-person committee to dream big.
Dr. Larry Calhoun, a member of the committee, reminded city commissioners of that charge on Monday before the Sesquicentennial Commission presented its preliminary plans for a year-long celebration and a legacy project at King Commons that carries an estimated cost of $3.5 million.
“You told us you wanted a ‘wow’ project,” Calhoun said. “You are about to see a ‘wow’ project in our opinion.”
By the end of Monday’s presentation, city commissioners agreed to consider a $450,000 addendum to Johnson City’s 2018-19 budget during Thursday’s city commission meeting. That money would allow the sesquicentennial committee to secure planning documents for the project in King Commons, start fundraising efforts and begin scheduling a year’s worth of events to celebrate the history of Johnson City.
During Monday’s presentation, Calhoun and Marcy Walker laid out a detailed plan for a sesquicentennial celebration that would start with a kickoff party on New Year’s Eve and end with another party on Dec. 1, 2019 – the 150th anniversary of the city’s charter. Every month between those two events would have a theme that would help educate the public about the city’s history.
The legacy project presented on Monday consisted of a natural adventure area with log swings, stepping stones and a play structure that would sit between King Commons and the Johnson City Public Library as well as a water feature and splash pad that would be located inside King Commons.
While pitching the legacy project, Walker reminded city commissioners of the value Founder’s Park and King Commons have added to the downtown area. She then talked about the potential benefits of adding a water feature that uses music and lighting to the landscape in King Commons.
“These fountains can be synced with music and lights,” Walker said. “In Anderson, South Carolina, they’ve been able to attribute a 40-percent increase in the foot traffic in the downtown (to a water feature).”
When it came to funding the $3.5 million legacy project, Calhoun expressed confidence that the Sesquicentennial Commission could count on “stakeholders” for $1 million and estimated another $1 million could be raised through smaller donations from the general public. That would leave a $1.5 million balance to be paid by the city.
But Walker said there was some flexibility built into the plans in case the money raised by the committee and the funds committed by the city doesn’t cover the entire cost of the project.
“We do think $2 million is something that we would want to be responsible for, but we also understand that if we cannot achieve that, because of the way this project is set up, we can then look at components of it,” she said. “If we need to scale down and do one component or two components, we would have the flexibility to be able to do that depending on how our fundraising goes and depending on your commitment.”
By the end of the presentation, the commissioners agreed to consider providing $350,000 on Thursday for the renderings and planning documents that will allow fundraising efforts to begin. The sesquicentennial committee had also requested $200,000 for the monthly celebrations and the two parties that will bookend them, but the commissioners opted to start by considering $100,000 in the next fiscal year. The next commission will have the option of adding to that in the 2019-20 budget.