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Kingsport takes next step in outdoor venue project

Matthew Lane • Aug 21, 2019 at 9:14 AM

KINGSPORT — The Model City is taking the next step toward redeveloping the remainder of the old General Shale property.

Consultants are recommending that Kingsport build a multipurpose outdoor venue on the site, while marketing 25 adjacent acres for residential development. The next step is a $150,000 contract for additional geotechnical work on the property, along with a deeper economic analysis of the proposed venue.

During its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 6-1 to approve the contract. Mayor Pat Shull cast the lone dissenting vote.

ABOUT THE OUTDOOR VENUE

Nearly four years ago, more than 200 community, business and education leaders came together for a two-day summit and offered input on a five-year roadmap for the Model City. Arguably the biggest — and most popular — idea to come out of that process and later discussion by city leaders was the construction of a large outdoor venue on the old General Shale property, adjacent to Brickyard Park.

Kingsport officials envision the venue, a multipurpose facility, being a “magnet” project for downtown that would be used year-round and capable of accommodating everything from minor league baseball and soccer games, to concerts, festivals and special events.

Originally, Kingsport looked at having a fixed stage with tiered seating on the site, but according to City Manager Chris McCartt, that idea would have resulted in a limited-use facility. Under the direction of the BMA, city staff went back and started looking at a multipurpose venue.

“If we were to build a facility only for baseball, we would be doing a great disservice to the citizens of Kingsport,” McCartt said.

FEASIBILITY STUDY

Last year, Kingsport contracted with Sterling Project Development of New York to perform a feasibility study for the proposed outdoor venue. SPD is a real estate advisory firm and an affiliate of Sterling Equities — the owner and operator of the New York Mets.

The $95,000 study evaluated the soil conditions at the site, provided an estimated cost to build the facility and a recommendation of what to do with 25 acres adjacent to the site.

According to the study, the site’s wet soil is not immediately suitable for a heavy or large structure. Site work would have an estimated cost of $7.2 million. However, if the excavated dirt were left on an adjacent site (the future home of a pump track for bike riders), that could result in a savings of $2.8 million.

SPD estimates an outdoor venue would cost just over $10 million. It would include a turf field, seating for 2,500 people, 600 parking spaces, and four development-ready pads for potential office, retail, entertainment or restaurant space.

The total estimated cost of the project is $14.5 million.

SPD also recommended the 25 acres adjacent to the site (above Brickyard Park) be residential space — between 126 and 147 townhomes depending on city zoning. Conceptual drawings from SPD also show a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks (with a $3 million price tag) and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive extended and connecting to Brickyard Park Drive, but not to Cherokee Street.

McCartt said the 25 acres would be marketed to the private sector and that all internal streets of the residential development would be private roads.

HOW THE BMA STANDS

Shull said on Monday and again on Tuesday he would prefer to defer the SPD agreement in order to give the public time to absorb the matter.

“The common citizen conception of what’s going to be built was another ball park. I don’t think it’s well understood of what’s being considered,” Shull said. “I just want to slow the train down. I don’t want to stop the train.”

Vice-Mayor Colette George, who has served on the BMA since the project’s inception, said the idea has had a lot of citizen input over the past four years.

“Anyone who's been involved in downtown and the city has known this is something that we've been discussing,” George said. “I'm comfortable moving forward.”

Alderman James Phillips, who canceled a trip to attend Tuesday’s BMA meeting, said the next study should answer all of the city’s questions about the property.

Alderwoman Betsy Cooper said Kingsport has two options with the property — do nothing or approve this study.

“To me, the only logical option is to do the study and see what we have and the best use of the land is,” Cooper said.

Alderwoman Jennifer Adler, who appeared ready to vote against the measure on Monday, offered reasons why she sided with the majority on Tuesday.

“I share many of the mayor’s concerns, but for me personally, the opportunity zone factor is the defining factor to move forward with a study now,” Adler said, adding that without private investment on the property, she could not support the city bearing all of the cost of the project.

THE NEXT STEP

With the BMA’s approval Tuesday night, the next step is for SPD to perform a more in depth geotechnical evaluation of the outdoor venue site and evaluate five development scenarios for the property, including using it as:

— An outdoor venue (recommended).

— A passive park.

— Residential only.

— Residential coupled with a passive park.

— A business park.

McCartt said the soil analysis and market study of the five scenarios could be done in about eight to 10 weeks. Development opportunities for whichever scenario is ultimately chosen could be done by the end of the year.

“I don’t think we have enough information to move forward on the venue,” McCartt said. “If we took what we have now and were asked to shop this in front of potential investors, we would need more information.”