By Steve Hunley
For those folks that are paying attention, you have likely heard about the proposed sale of the Andrew Johnson Building. Presently, the AJ houses most of the administrative staff of the Knox County School system. For some time now, there has been talk of selling the Andrew Johnson. Mind you, nobody has really talked to the school system about displacing them and moving them into another building.
Mayor Glenn Jacobs has been pushing the sale and from what I’ve seen, trying to convince everyone that selling the AJ and moving the school system lock, stock and barrel into one of the TVA Towers is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Despite of all the talk about putting this property back on the tax rolls through private sector ownership, the sale is NO BARGAIN FOR THE TAXPAYERS.
Look at the chart included in this editorial and you will see the taxpayers of Knox County have invested almost $26 million into the Andrew Johnson, which is not the entire cost to the taxpayers. Selling the AJ to a private developer or corporation for a proposed $6 million represents 23% of what the taxpayers have invested in the building. Would you sell your home for 23% of its value or what you have invested in it? I really doubt it.
The numbers floated by the mayor and a few of the county commissioners regarding selling the AJ Building and moving the school system to the empty TVA East Tower may sound fine to a few, but are really nothing more than what they hope is a best case scenario and the entire thing is based on real estate speculation. Unfortunately, some public officials are speculating in real estate with taxpayer money. The one thing that abounds in downtown Knoxville are government buildings. The entire UT campus is an armada of government buildings. The old Miller’s building on Henley Street is a government building, there is the public library and the school system is being nudged to locate in what is left of the buildings that once represented TVA in its glory days. If the East TVA Tower is such a great deal, why has it gone unused for many years? The idea that a private developer is going to buy the AJ even at bargain basement prices and make a success of it is a big leap of faith. Just across the street from the City-County Building sits the federal building that used to be the Whittle complex. Remember that? That was supposed to be all but the Second-Coming once upon a time. One block from that is the old post office and the owner has a large sign out front advertising office space is still available. The truth is the biggest business in Knoxville and Knox County is government.
If there is a rush to put government property back on the tax rolls and with so many buildings available, why sell just one? The old TVA Tower is a government building – – – why not put it back on the tax rolls? It’s sitting there empty and unused, but it’s been that way for some time, which tells me nobody wants to buy it. Only in government circles does it make sense to move a governmental entity from one government owned building, sell it at a loss to a private developer, move the entity into another government-owned building and sing hosannas that the taxpayers just made a killing because one building is back on the tax rolls.
Consider your home is paid for and the young’uns try and convince you to sell your home at a fraction of its worth to move you into a brand new condo and yes, you’ll have a mortgage or a lease payment and have to pay condo association fees, but what a deal! The ONLY bargain is to the buyer of the property being sold for 23% of what taxpayers pay for it.
The proposed sale as it stands, in my opinion, is a bad deal for the school system and the taxpayers of Knox County.