By Jeff Keeling
Funding methods are approved, a design has been selected, and construction of the new Johnson City Farmers Market could begin as early as August, Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said Wednesday.
The new market site downtown is adjacent to Founders Park, at the park’s east end. Its centerpiece will be a long, covered but unwalled structure with 40 drive-under vending spaces. The building, designed by architect Tom Weems and the end result of multiple drafts and much discussion by city commissioners and Johnson City Development Authority commissioners, comes with an estimated $1.05 million price tag.
Site work on the market property, and along Commerce Street where parking will be added, brings the total cost estimate to $1.6 million. In March, the JCDA approved using $1.25 million in available tax increment financing (TIF) funds for the long-planned project, and the city is kicking in $350,000 from its general fund.
TIF expenditures of more than $25,000 are subject to Washington County Commission approval, which came at that commission’s Monday meeting.
Pindzola, who said the new space could be ready by the time the market reopens in mid-April for the 2015 season, sees the project as another important step in the redevelopment of the corridor between East Tennessee State University and downtown, paralleling Brush Creek and the railroad – Johnson City’s foundations.
“We’re watching before our eyes the transition from foundries and warehouses and mills to residential and recreation complexes and parks and walking trails,” the long-tenured public works director said.
“You’re going from industrial complex to a residential-commercial complex, and you’re starting to see the commercial side fill in with mixed-use developments, etc. That’s what’s cool, and that’s what people should be excited about.”
The site, which city commissioners selected in mid-2012, includes a parking lot bounded by West Main and Commerce streets and the Norfolk Southern rail line, as well as the land where a former Free Service Tire warehouse was razed in 2012. At its west end it flows directly into Founders Park, at a point that will feature two sculptures sponsored by Tupelo Honey Cafe – a metal arch and a “human sundial.”
“This project actually adds parking in addition to providing the (11,000-square-foot) Farmers Market pavilion,” Pindzola said.
He said parking spaces will be added on Commerce Street, perpendicular to the market space, with a 15-foot-wide sidewalk between them and the market space proper. More parking will be on the market side of that sidewalk, with the building in the middle of the lot and additional non-covered parking on the east end, closest to the railroad tracks.
“If you needed room for more vendors you could put them on the wide sidewalk (next to Commerce),” Pindzola said.
The Johnson City Farmers Market is already thriving, without a structure, at its Cherry Street parking lot location, but Pindzola cited several reasons for the publicly funded project. First, he said, redevelopment occurring downtown could easily spread to more than 50,000 square feet of vacant space along Cherry Street.
“When that redevelops that will have put so much pressure on that parking lot that it had to go someplace,” Pindzola said.
Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin is among those who also have stressed that the pavilion should be available for other uses when not serving the market, and that such availability should be promoted. Pindzola said the structure itself, and its location next to the park, will bring multiple benefits.
“You’re putting an attractor which brings people to the downtown. You’re supporting the local economy through the sale of local food products. You’ve got people who can go between the commercial district of downtown easily to the farmers market. It just makes for a nice experience for people to enjoy.
“There should be a relationship there that will benefit both the farmers market and the businesses in the downtown area. Plus, we’re expanding parking, and it will be consistent with all the other things we’re doing to enhance the streetscapes, make it more pedestrian friendly. All of those things combined is a nice use of public funds.”