And now, more than two years after its conception, the rubber is meeting the road.
The top projects have been recommended, and now city leaders and elected officials are thinking long and hard about the best way to move forward with these “big ideas.” And, of course, they’re also trying to calculate how best to pay for them.
A brief history
One Kingsport started in October 2015 with a two-day summit where hundreds of people brainstormed about how to improve the city. From there, dozens of volunteers worked for months on refining those ideas into a more workable list of projects Kingsport could implement to help make the city the premiere destination in our region.
The original list of “big ideas,” policy changes and capital projects from the summit totaled more than 100 items, which were eventually prioritized into a five-year plan. Some ideas, like beautification efforts and an economic development portal, were realized rather quickly. Other projects are underway.
A volunteer advisory board in August recommended five “big ideas” the Board of Mayor and Aldermen should consider focusing on. One of those ideas — the Neighborhood Commission — has already been formed and was done so at virtually no cost.
As for the other suggestions — the ones with significant price tags — those were discussed at length last week during a four-hour BMA work session. A summary of where each one stands is as follows:
Bays Mountain Park
Kingsport has essentially gotten the ball rolling on improvements to the park. The city last year allocated more than $2 million for a number of projects: a master plan for new animal exhibits, construction of an outdoor classroom, the first phase of dam repairs, a new entry gate and nature center gateway, additional parking and new wayfinding signs within the park.
City leaders discussed making the management model for Bays Mountain Park more businesslike so that the park would be able to cover more of its expenses. Right now that figure stands at 15 percent. BMA members indicated they would like to see that number be 25 percent.
This could be done in a variety of ways, city officials said, (some of which are already underway), such as making enhancements to the park, extending the seasonal hours, adjusting the fees for programs and rentals and increasing marketing resources and efforts.
An outdoor venue
Arguably the biggest — and most popular — idea to come out of the One Kingsport process has been the construction of a large outdoor venue for concerts, festivals and special events. The proposed location is the old General Shale property, adjacent to Brickyard Park, off Industry Drive.
One conceptual plan shows an outdoor venue (an open lawn with seating for 15,000), two adjacent parking lots, two multipurpose fields and cross country running paths of one, two and three miles. On the north side of the property would be an extended Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks near Cherokee Street.
A sports tourism consultant recently evaluated the property and noted what Kingsport could do with additional baseball fields, estimating they could bring an additional $5 to $10 million of spending into the city.
However, the recommendation going forward is for Kingsport to develop the outdoor venue with adjacent parking, extend MLK Drive and develop a fifth, adaptive field (for special needs kids) at Brickyard Park. The estimated cost: $8.5 million.
Product creation center
For those unfamiliar with the term, a product creation center is basically a place where stuff gets made. Whether it’s using high-tech machinery like a 3-D printer or a plasma cutter or simply offering space for classes or demonstrations, a product creation center is a place for folks to gather and create things.
Kingsport is calling its product creation center the Inventor Center and is looking to locate it in the old Model City Motors building on Shelby Street. The thought is the center would have roughly 60 active members in its first year, offering at least 30 classes a month.
The cost of bringing the building online (renovation and initial equipment) is estimated to be $250,000 while the total investment over four years is projected to be $520,000. During last week’s called meeting, the BMA seemed receptive to this amount and informally agreed the city should move quickly to fund it, using One Kingsport cash rather than bonding the project.
Mayor John Clark said the Inventor Center is the city’s best chance of sparking interest that would carry Kingsport a long way.
“You got to try it. It’s in our wheelhouse,” he said.
Rediscovering the Riverfront
Kingsport has long wanted to see development take place along the Holston River. A decade ago, a consultant drafted a master plan for the Riverport part of town, and while some improvements have been made, the full potential of the river has yet to be realized.
What’s being proposed is a four-phase plan, with the first being the creation of Riverbend Park behind the Walmart Supercenter on Fort Henry Drive. This $3.8 million park could be done in three waves and include multiple playgrounds, pavilions, boardwalks, fishing piers and boat launches.
The second phase of riverfront improvements could be new playground equipment at Riverfront Park on Netherland Inn Road (at a cost of $150,000). Third on the proposed list of ideas would be the creation of a Whitewater Park area at Tilthammer Shoals ($1.3 million) and finally the creation of a $2.1 million park at the Kingsport Landing part of town (Industry and Netherland).
It’s now up to the BMA to decide when these projects will be funded and at what levels. Kingsport has $700,000 in annual One Kingsport funds, which could be used as cash to fund portions of the projects outright or used to pay the debt service on bonds. City officials said sponsorships, private money and grants would also play into the funding streams for these “big ideas.”