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DOWNTOWN CENTRE: Johnson City has ‘little to no interest’ in buying building from Washington County

Johnson City has little to no interest in buying the Downtown Centre from the county, according to City Manager Pete Peterson.
“Even when the building was supposedly part of the health department discussion, the commission had little interest in it,” he said. “We’re not interested in buying it.”
Peterson gave this message to several Washington County commissioners and Mayor George Jaynes at a City-County Liaison Committee meeting last week. He said he would have an official answer for the county after Thursday’s City Commission meeting.
County commissioners attended the meeting to give “first refusal” of purchase of the building to the city.
“As a co-government, we want to give you the consideration,” said Commissioner Mark Hicks.
Jaynes said the county can sell the building in three ways: an auction, sealed bids, and negotiations.
“We’d like for you all to have it as far as we’re concerned,” he said.
Jaynes said he has seen some interest from the juvenile courts to move there, and he recently toured the facility with Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Green. He said he thought the city would like to buy the building to move the courts into the Downtown Centre.
But Peterson said while the city might move the juvenile courts there for more space, it would only be interested in leasing space until the city could build a new community center and move the courts there.
“From conversations, I don’t think we’d end up with five votes to buy it,” he said. “One thing we don’t want to inherit is hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in operating costs. We don’t need space that desperately and it’s a whole lot more space than we need.”
Jaynes said the county pays about $200,000 a year to keep the building operating, but that includes labor costs.
Both parties pointed out the building has some structural issues. The slate underneath the center has become wet, has tilted, and some windows have cracked due to shifting walls. The center would also need a new HVAC system, Peterson said.
However, the parking structure is perfect, officials said, and would be a boon to redevelopers or private sector buyers.
Commissioner C.B. Kinch asked whether the Johnson City Development Authority would be interested in the building, but Peterson wouldn’t comment on its intentions.
County Attorney John Rambo said the city’s decision needed to come soon, because “now that we’ve declared surplus it triggers certain events down the pipeline.”
“We’ll get you an answer a week from [Friday] morning,” Peterson responded. “I think it’ll be easy to arrive at an answer Thursday evening. “