Downtown improvement plan solidified

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By Cindy Simpson

Empty and deteriorating buildings that take up part of a block on Roane Street in Harriman may not be far from a facelift.
Mayor Chris Mason said city officials are almost ready to give the Harriman Housing Authority the nod to give the property’s owner, Fikret Gencay, notice to either come up with a plan of action to remedy the buildings’ problems or the buildings will be taken and given to someone who will.
Mason said Dale Henry, who has already purchased and renovated a number of downtown buildings, is interested in purchasing the buildings in the 500 block.
“Dale is itching to buy,” Mason told council at a recent workshop.
He also explained the process involving the Harriman Housing Authority, an agency that has eminent domain powers the city does not.
Mason said Gencay would be notified that he must bring the buildings into compliance.
If nothing is done by the 91st day after that notice, the authority can begin the process of taking the property with the city providing the money for the appraised value.
The authority can then sell it  to Henry, who will then be subject to providing a corrective action plan.
The authority has the power to sell to whomever it select without having to go out for bids, according to officials.
The city is also taking a look at the former Edward’s Shoe Store, also owned by Gencay.
A neighboring business has complained of water damage caused by runoff from that building.
Mason had said earlier in the month that Alvin Nance of the Knoxville nonprofit agency Community Development Corp.  has agreed to contact Gencay.
Nance also dealt with Gencay about blighted properties he owned in Market Square in Knoxville, according to Mason. Gencay lives in Knoxville.
Mason wants to take a suggestion from the Community Development Corp. — to take the projected tax revenue the proposed improvements are supposed to generate and use that to borrow money for a facade program.
That program would provide property owners with grant money to improve the front of their stores. It would also place a lien on that work so the facade cannot be removed or damaged up to the next 10 years.
“Developers love that because it, of course, increases their property value,” Mason said.
The newly minted Harriman Industrial Board is also now ready to move.
The board appointed officers recently and established who would be in the staggered terms.
Chairman Hugh Sliger took a four-year term, along with Bill Alexander, who also sits on planning commission.
Vice Chairman Saul Skippers took a six-year term, along with assistant secretary Donna Demyanovich and treasurer Chrystal Jones.
Secretary David Webb  and Dwight Pearch took two-year terms.
City coordinator Bob Tidwell said they were given a list of properties to begin considering including the industrial property and the  armory.
A workshop between the industrial board and council was suggested.
The board also wants to take a tour of all the properties.
Mason and other officials all agreed that time is of the essence to find businesses to fill the properties that will be vacated when Covenant Health relocates Roane Medical Center’s operations to a facility to be built in Midtown.
The hospital is looking to move in the next 13 to 14 months, Mason said.  
Councilman Kenyon Mee said they would be needing someone with knowledge of all the maintenance issues that would come up in those buildings if they are still in city hands after the move.
“We need some professional help on what we’re going to do with this hospital property,” Councilman Lonnie Wright said.
Wright said they had contacted someone a while back that offered good advice.
Mee said that Darrell Williams, Roane Alliance director of business development, had contacted a guy that was willing to give him some free advice on how to get started but to hire the person would be costly.
“He’s one of those, maybe, $30,000-plus guys,” Mee said.
Besides empty buildings, city officials said getting rid of the equipment left in them may also be an issue.
Mee said he has learned that much of the equipment used at the hospital now is rented.
Mason said that Covenant Health is required to remove any unwanted items.