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Residents weigh in with town improvement ideas

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Johnson County is a small rural area devoid of any large retail stores or sit-down chain restaurants. Unlike in the past, there are no recreational sites like movie theaters, skating rinks, or bowling alleys for locals to spend leisure time and capital. What Johnson County does have are ideas and opportunities.

The Tomahawk reached out to the community to ask how to improve downtown Mountain City. Accumulatively, more than 250 people shared their thoughts varying from adding community activities, like movie nights or open-mic sessions, in empty lots to demolishing old structures or adding touches like flowerbeds to beautify the area.

“Having grown up in Johnson County, we need not only family-friendly places,” explained local resident Amanda Albery. “The town did have a movie theater and a malt shop. Why not utilize the empty space between buildings and host outside activities like movies and such. Add a few nice shops? Or how about a new shoe store? A bookstore? Or maybe make it easier for people to start businesses?”

City Mayor Jerry Jordan says that he “has not talked to business or property owners” on the subject but is willing, moving forward. The city does not offer any incentives to business owners “right off the bat.” In cases like the tax abatement for CrystaLac, the city reports the impact is much stronger on it than the county and denied the abatement during the most recent council meeting, saying it would cost .19 percent of its annual tax collections.

Jordan expressed interest in growth but was steadfast in denying one particular request: demolishing buildings. The building most people focus on is the old Army Surplus store, which Jordan says could be a well of opportunities with the right benefactor. He explained that inspectors found it “very structurally sound,” and that several buyers expressed interest. Others in the community point out that another building of that size would most likely not be rebuilt if the current one were demolished.

Jordan is on the lookout for grants, focusing on the website grants.gov. A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition Director Trish Burchette shared information with the community about a government program called Tennessee Downtowns, which helps “communities embark on a comprehensive revitalization effort for their downtown.” Mountain City is one of several areas listed specifically in the information link. This grant is only available every two years and will not come back around until 2022 but could be helpful in the future.

The Tomahawk reached out to County Mayor Mike Taylor several times for his and the county’s views on community improvement but did not get a response. City Mayor Jerry Jordan offers to answer public inquiries at (423) 213-2320.