Editorial: New housing near Brickyard is just what city needs 

Editorial Board • Jun 17, 2020 at 11:00 PM

It’s good news that Kingsport’s leadership seems inclined to use property near Brickyard Park for a major housing project.

The area was initially proposed as a site for an outdoor venue for concerts and related activities but that morphed into a baseball field, an idea which quickly began losing support. Downtown concerts and festivals draw thousands, proving that an outdoor venue in the heart of the city can succeed, but this property isn’t in downtown Kingsport and roadwork to open it for such a use would be expensive.

There are options for a concert venue downtown, but the perfect use of the relatively flat property adjacent to Brickyard is a middle-class neighborhood to help with Kingsport’s largest roadblock to growth. The city is in need of new but affordable housing to grow its tax base. Alderman James Phillips said Kingsport is hamstrung in attracting new residents by a lack of residential homes at a price range of about $200,0000 to $225,000. There were 569 home closings in the region in May with an average sales price of $185,000.

Before the pandemic, Kingsport’s daily population was around 70,000, but at the end of the workday, some 20,000 people who work here went to their homes outside the city. Many chose to live elsewhere, but there’s no doubt that for reasons of simple economics, some would prefer to live where they work to save on gas and, most important in this busy age, to increase personal time with their families.

Kingsport Economic Development Director Jason Hudson told aldermen recently that the property could be developed into a residential area of 126 new homes and green space. Or, it could be used for light industrial, an option Vice Mayor Colette George said seemed unlikely since the property was on the market for that purpose for 15 years. As well, Hudson said there is more than a quarter-million square feet of light industrial space in the region, including some that is shovel-ready.

Hudson said Kingsport and the region need more reasonably priced homes to help attract taxpayers and workers. He said Johnson City has more newer residential construction, with 22% of its residential offerings built since 2000, compared to only 12% in Kingsport. And he said the last time Kingsport built more residential homes than Johnson City was more than a half-century ago in the 1960s.

Hudson said $225,000 homes would satisfy a demand for houses in that price range. Since 2014, he said homes built in Kingsport have averaged $384,000, while those built from 2011 to 2013 averaged $211,000. Hudson said the green space formerly was called a festival ground, but he said nearby Riverview residents thought that was too much like a fairgrounds. He said the green space still could be used for concerts and related activities.

What’s next? City Manager Chris McCartt said the overall idea likely will come before the BMA for a vote in August. The demand for homes and the city’s interest in putting this property to use in contributing to the tax base should attract developers.

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