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Northeast State considering Downtown Centre for Washington County campus

After more than a year of trying to decide what to do with the Downtown Centre in Johnson City, it appears Washington County leaders may have found the answer in Northeast State Community College.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge led Northeast State President Janice Gilliam and other officials on a tour of the facility on Nov.17.
“I spent an hour showing them every aspect of the building, and it certainly meets their needs,” Eldridge said.
In addition to classroom and office space, the Downtown Centre provides a parking garage that could be a selling point for the school, which would need significant parking available if it were to open a site in downtown Johnson City.
“I look at this as a first showing, and I was very pleased with how it went,” Eldridge said. “Northeast State must now do its due diligence, so the ball is in their court.”
In addition to answering the long-awaited question of what will be done with the Downtown Centre, Eldridge said the purchase would satisfy the more significant need of the college to have a campus in Washington County. The college currently operates campuses in Blountville, Elizabethton and Kingsport.
“When you think about the user, this could do a lot for Washington County and downtown Johnson City,” Eldridge said.
Before any deal can be finalized, Washington County’s Clerk and Trustee offices must be relocated. They are the last remaining offices in the Downtown Centre since the opening of the George P. Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough late last year. Courtrooms and other offices, including the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, relocated to the the Justice Center shortly before its official opening in November 2009.
A list of possible locations for the two remaining offices has been narrowed down to two in North Johnson City, one of which reportedly is on Sunset Drive.
Eldridge said the county is waiting for proposals from both sites to decide which would be better suited for the offices.
“We have been trying to identify an accessible location for a large population of our people, and North Johnson City is an obvious bullseye,” he said.
Significantly reducing expenses is the overriding factor in the county leaving the Downtown Centre, according to Eldridge. Annual operating expenses are estimated at between $150,000 and $200,000.
“Our only plan is to sell it,” he noted.
The Downtown Centre has been considered for several options during the last year, including leasing it for the Johnson City Juvenile Court, purchase by the Johnson City Area Arts Council, and at one point was even a part of a land swap for the health department that has since been completed without the Centre’s involvement.
Appraisals for the facility have come in between $2 to $6 million.
And although the response from Northeast State seemed positive, Eldridge said it is too early to predict the outcome of any arrangement with the community college.