By Collin Brooks
When the Johnson City Public Building Authority kicks off the meeting on Wednesday, there will be more eyes in the room than normal. That comes from the new interest in a 2.3 acre parcel of property that they own on State of Franklin Road.
Located directly across from the ETSU parking garage and nudged in-between Regions Bank and Ruby Tuesday’s, the piece of property has gauged interest from three local businesses in Cootie Brown’s, the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and the Purple Cow.
During Wednesday’s meeting, a list of multiple questions will be reviewed, according to PBA vice-chairman Henry Carr, with the main priority of getting the property sold.
“That lot has been for sale for many years and it had a number of suitors over those years, that for various reasons couldn’t get it to closing,” Carr said. “The PBA business model contemplates land sales and tax revenue to fund it’s existence. So selling that land is very important and selling it for the right purposes is equally important.”
One question that will come up is item 24 on the PBA’s list of 31 restricted uses for the site. That says that non-profit and governmental uses of the site is prohibited.
However, it would only take a simple amendment to the list in order for the chamber to become eligible.
“There is not a set of restrictive convents on that property like there are on other projects, i.e. Med-Tech Park…these restricted uses have been crafted over the years, I’m told, by the PBA members and city staff,” said Carr who also mentioned that is a question that will be discussed on Wednesday.
During a meeting on April 21, the PBA heard proposals from Cootie Browns, the Purple Cow and the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, in that order, during their meeting inside the Millennium Center.
Cootie Brown’s and the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce each had preliminary site plans ready to show the board, which the Purple Cow did not.
In Cootie Brown’s pitch, architect Ken Ross presented a conceptual plan to the PBA that they said would be tweaked to satisfy any regulations they are not in line with. In it, there is about 4,000 square foot of restaurant space and an additional 1,200 square feet for outdoor dining. There is also another 6,000 square feet that will be a permanent tailgating area for fans, with slots already in place in the pavement for people to set up tents.
On the back of the lot in front of Brush Creek, there would be a building that could be one or two levels, with each level having about 5,500 square feet of space, that could be used for offices or retail. There would be 101 parking spaces on the L-shaped lot.
Tony Vella, part owner of Cootie Brown’s restaurant, said that his group is ready to get started on the project immediately upon approval and the close to $2 million dollars it will take is already accounted for. His group includes realtors Brenda Clarke and Rex Parris, along with Steve Scheu of Time & Pay.
While Vella said the group has no plans of leaving their North Roan Street location, they are ready to serve the north side of the city with a 175-seat restaurant and they would like to build a new restaurant every 2.5 years until they reach 10 in the Tri-Cities market. He said the added value of the building at the back of the property would only be something that is needed in the future, which he said, has been expressed to him by ETSU.
Cootie Brown’s pays about $300,000 in tax revenue to the city and state, which does not include federal taxes, Vella said, and a Cootie Brown’s resturants — like the new one that just opened in Bristol — do about $2.2 to $2.5 million in sales a year.
The Purple Cow, represented by co-owner Steve Trent said they would like to purchase the property for $460,000 — $10,000 over the proposals by the other two companies. He said they would like to expand their Kingsport based drive-thru diner restaurant — which serves affordable items to cash-strapped college students — to Johnson City with a 1,000 square foot facility that does not have any seating. He said they would be open to further developing the property down the road.
John Speropulos of Mitch Cox Companies spoke on behalf of the Chamber and said they were planning to build an office building that is 10,150 square feet and all brick and glass. He said they came across the property after a long search and narrowed it down to it and another property, but they weren’t ready to comment on its location.
Johnson City Chambers of Commerce President and CEO Gary Mabrey said that the location is perfect for people that come and visit the city.
“We wanted to be near the pulse and the heartbeat, where a lot of the action is going on,” he told the News & Neighbor. “It could provide a phenomenal destination point and a phenomenal way to show off the community and the region.
“We have $5 billion of the local and regional economy within a mile. You have the VA (Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Medical Center), you have Mountain States — and that will be a merger of healthcare systems— and you have the university. You’re on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Northeast Tennessee and that is State of Franklin Road. So what better place?”