By Don Mauldin, P.E.
A project with layers of perks that extend beyond the scope of the initial problem are more likely to be funded by cities. Other single-solution projects are increasingly being postponed or canceled entirely in favor of ones with multiple benefits to the city and its taxpayers.
LDA Engineering kept that trend in mind when we were asked to address severe flooding in downtown Johnson City in upper East Tennessee. Our recently completed Founders Park project was the first step in solving the significant flooding issues and created a beautiful city-owned public park.
For decades, the historic downtown Johnson City district had been plagued by flooding at the intersection of two large urban streams, Brush and King creeks, which had been diverted into culverts. This constant flooding prevented current property owners from investing in their properties and kept new businesses from locating to the area. Johnson City was limited in the economic and cultural uses of what is otherwise a uniquely attractive part of a vibrant city.
Over the years, numerous studies had resulted in recommendations for infrastructure improvements with cost estimates in the tens of millions of dollars. In 2007, the Johnson City Commission authorized the mayor to appoint a Downtown Task Force made up of property owners, representatives of downtown development groups and two City commissioners to seek new solutions for the flooding woes. Though flood mitigation measures were clearly needed, the task force determined the cost could only be justified if the project also involved downtown beautification.
That’s when LDA Engineering was selected by the City to serve as the task force’s technical staff to help facilitate meetings and provide engineering consulting and design. LDA provided professional consulting and analysis for various flood mitigation measured proposed by the task force and developed them into a Master Development Plan that included using green, sustainable spaces for flood mediation.
In 2012, the City Commission approved the first priority project recommended by the task force– Founders Park. LDA Engineering was selected to provide engineering design and construction phase services for the park’s builder. The construction project consisted of removing 700 feet of the Brush Creek triple barrel box culvert located beneath an old warehouse, building an environmentally enhancing channel and constructing a five-acre greenway park along the creek banks with a 200-seat amphitheater for outdoor activities.
Since its completion in December of 2013, Founders Park provides an outstanding downtown gathering area, improved local drainage, an environmentally sound stream and a major step in the implementation of the Master Plan. Founders Park not only provides some relief to downtown businesses after years of crippling floodwaters, but it also incorporates a sustainable green space for Johnson City residents and visitors to enjoy.
The park was also designed to spark redevelopment, and Johnson City is already seeing economic rewards. Tupelo Honey Café renovated an historic structure across from the park. A nearby multistory residential building is also nearing completion – the first structure of its kind to be built downtown in more than 20 years. Small businesses are locating downtown, and groups are already talking with the City about reserving the park for events that will bring activity back to the area.
The goal was to start the process of addressing the flooding. The final outcome delivered a City gem.