An amusement and arcade company is seeking to rezone its corporate headquarters in Boones Creek to create a family entertainment center that would be open to the public.
Johnson City commissioners will hold a public hearing and vote on the second reading of a request from FACE Amusement to rezone its corporate headquarters at 4721 Lake Park Drive from a Light Industrial District to an Arterial Business District.
The proposal already passed unanimously on first reading during the City Commission’s March 7 meeting.
“We would like to take the currently vacant portion of our corporate office building and create an open-to-the-public family entertainment center for the purposes of ‘Creating Fun Experiences’ for Johnson City, as well as create a central training center with which to test new ideas and concepts,” Matthew Wilhjelm, chief operating officer of FACE and the property owner, wrote in a letter to the city’s Planning Department.
“Additionally, we plan to offer meeting room spaces for team building events, birthday parties and other gatherings.”
Wilhjelm said this project is “no small investment,” as his company’s operations traditionally require populations significantly higher than Johnson City’s to provide cash flow.
“By already owning the building, we are covering a significant portion of the costs we otherwise would have, thus making this a possibility. We believe this will be a unique, nice addition to Johnson City’s entertainment offering and draw families from the greater Tri-Cities area.”
In the City Commission’s agenda packet, it states this rezoning, like many other properties in the Boones Creek Road corridor, seeks to take “advantage of the new grade school that Washington County is constructing in this corridor, as many subdivisions that will likely be developed around the school.”
Before FACE Amusement moved its corporate office there, the building was formerly used as an ITT Technical Institute campus.
The city’s planning staff and the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission have recommended approval.
FACE Amusement was formed in 2013 by Bucky Mabe and former Washington County Commissioner Mark Larkey. The company originated as B&M Amusements in 2001 and mainly operated in the Southeast, leasing games to grocery stores, convenience stores and truck stops.
In 2005, the owners partnered with former Washington County Board of Education member Clarence Mabe to open the Rockin’ Raceway arcade in Pigeon Forge. The company has since expanded and now operates nine family entertainment centers in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Missouri.
On its website, it states Clarence Mabe was the third person in the U.S. to own a claw crane game, before he eventually bought hundreds of them to enter the amusement business full time.