Which is why Kingsport has been placing a greater emphasis on the appearance of the city in recent years, specifically on its gateways, entrances and streetscapes. City officials have realized these things can make or break a business deal or someone’s decision to move here.
As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Improving the presentation of the Model City has been on Kingsport’s radar for at least the past 20 years. It’s been a priority in a number of plans, including ones on downtown and crafted by the Model City Coalition.
Beautification rose to the top of the priorities list about two years ago during the One Kingsport summit process with city officials agreeing that a dedicated funding stream was needed to help improve the curb appeal of the city.
That funding stream came from the recently modified franchise fee with American Electric Power. Today, AEP pays Kingsport roughly $3.9 million for the exclusive rights to operate within the boundaries of the city.
Ten percent of that fund ($390,000) is earmarked for beautification, Assistant City Manager Ryan McReynolds recently told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“There was a lot of effort to beautify the streets in the early days of Kingsport. The eye was on the form of the city, to try and bring people in,” McReynolds said a recent BMA worksession. “Then we had a shift to function, post World War II, on how to become a more efficient city.”
To help bring the point home, McReynolds showed a picture of downtown Kingsport in 1938 with trees clearly visible along the streets of Main, Market and Center. He juxtaposed that photo with one from 1963, showing most of those trees had gone.
In those days, Kingsport presented itself in a utilitarian way, McReynolds said.
But today, after the aforementioned plans called for a greater emphasis on beautification and a dedicated funding stream, the appearance of the city is slowly starting to change.
“The franchise fee was something that really assisted greatly with that. It was the means to close a lot of gaps,” McReynolds said.
According to information provided to the BMA, Kingsport has been able to focus on improving the look of Wilcox Drive and the John B. Dennis Highway intersection with landscaping and tree planting, with plans underway to improve the median at Stone Drive and Eastman Road, J. Fred Johnson Park and to recoat the Wilcox Drive railroad bridge with the word “Kingsport” on it.
Future efforts include relocating power lines underground along Main Street and landscaping the median along Clinchfield Street near the hospital and the median at John B. Dennis and Enterprise Place.
“Long term, these funds will be used to go through the various neighborhoods to underground the utility lines,” McReynolds said.
The fundamental issue is that Kingsport needs to improve its curb appeal, Mayor John Clark said.
“Part of that is the look and feel of the city,” Clark said. “I’m happy to see progress made, and the board indicates they want to see more. We’re in a competitive environment, and this is a key component.”