One Kingsport summit becomes a movement

Matthew Lane • Mar 23, 2016 at 10:30 PM

KINGSPORT — A course for Kingsport’s future has been charted. Now, it is up to city and elected leaders to move the ship forward.

In a daylong meeting Wednesday, the One Kingsport summit work groups presented their “big ideas” and recommendations to help take the Model City to the next level. The work groups spun out of last fall’s One Kingsport summit — a two-day planning session where nearly 200 city, business and community leaders came together to kick off the process of creating a five-year road map for the city.

Each work group focused on a theme deemed vital for Kingsport’s success: arts and entertainment, destination city investments, downtown revitalization, housing, higher education innovation, health and wellness and job creation and entrepreneurship.

In the months since the summit, the work groups had 242 participants, held 123 meetings and put in nearly 4,800 hours of work brainstorming ideas, policy changes and capital projects.

Everyone in the room on Wednesday wants Kingsport to be the premier city in the region to live, work and play; to be a vibrant community; and to be an attractive and appealing place for visitors.

“To say I’m excited is the understatement of the year,” Mayor John Clark said in his opening remarks on Wednesday. “To achieve our vision, we need to continue to invest in our city, to build on the recommendations made today. The BMA (Board of Mayor and Aldermen) is committed to seeing this through.”

As part of the process, the work groups started their charge by looking at the various plans previously done in the city, building on those ideas, modifying some and coming up with completely new suggestions to throw out for discussion.

A common theme among several of the work groups concerned the appearance of the city. The volunteers talked about the need to improve the gateways into town, provide better streetscapes for both motorists and pedestrians and invest more in the city’s current assets like Bays Mountain and the library.

However, there were a few big ticket ideas, like an outdoor concert venue on the old General Shale property, doubling the enrollment at the Academic Village and creating maker space downtown.

D-B Band Director Lafe Cook, the steward of the arts and entertainment group, kicked off Wednesday’s presentations with five themes: the need for maker space, beautification efforts, performance venues, an expansion of festivals and the marketing and communication of the ideas.

Maker space is a creative DIY space where people can come together to create, invent and learn, Cook said, noting the space could be used for woodworking, metal and pottery, to robotics and electronics.

“There is no major maker space in the Tri-Cities,” Cook said. “We need to be the place that jumps on this movement first.”

Other recommendations from the arts and entertainment work group include the creation of a mural arts program and the uplighting of trees (primarily in the downtown area), building a large, outdoor amphitheater on the General Shale property (with an estimated cost of $5 million), establishing a small, indoor performance venue (quite likely the State Theater) and the creation of a festival recruiting committee within the city.

Kingsport wants to be a destination city. The significance of this statement was included in the One Kingsport summit mission statement and was a strong theme among many in attendance on Wednesday.

To help the Model City become “the” premier city in the Tri-Cities, the destination city work group focused on three ideas: retail attractions (regional shopping center, boutique shops or unique dining), beautification efforts and destination projects.

“Who hasn't gone to Asheville for a day trip for lunch?” asked Frank Lett, a member of the destination city group. “We need to figure out how to make (Asheville) folks come to Kingsport for a day trip.”

More specifically, Lett said Kingsport needs to develop a standard streetscape model, one for the corridors and include guidelines for decorative lights, signage and underground utilities. Lett said the city needs to revisit the Kingsport Landing project for the Riverfront area of town, continue with the Bays Mountain master plan and the development of the General Shale property.

One long-term idea mentioned by two work groups on Wednesday was relocating Hunter Wright Stadium to the General Shale property. Lett said that could be a magnet project for downtown, possibly tying in to Cement Hill in some way.

Downtown revitalization has been a high priority among city leaders for years. The issue has played a role in a number of city elections, and the One Kingsport work group was the most popular among volunteers.

“Our first recommendation would be to develop districts in the downtown,” said Jennifer Salyer, a member of the downtown revitalization group. “A good example is the Academic Village. We would want to expand it to other areas of downtown that already have synergy.”

The district could include the downtown core, a municipal district, cultural arts district, warehouse district and Five Points district and each one could have specific rules to govern the type and look of structures located within.

Salyer said the group is recommending the creation of a unified downtown master plan, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, improved alley connections and incentives for renovations and redevelopment. Magnets and attractors for downtown could include boutique hotels, outdoor active play features, reopening the State Theater and continuing with the expansion and renovation of the Kingsport Public Library.

“We have a lot of plans already done. We want to study these plans, pull out the best stuff and start filling in the gaps,” Sayler said. “We need one single unified plan to move Kingsport forward.”

Housing is another issue on the minds of city officials and the BMA, with both commenting in recent years about the need to address the fact that Kingsport has a lack of high-end housing, apartments and new construction in general.

“We realize if we have people working here all day and leave to go home to another city, we'll never be a vibrant, 24/7 city,” said former mayor Jeanette Blazier, the steward of the housing work group, adding the two biggest housing gaps in Kingsport are homes for Millennials and retirees.

To help address the housing issue, the work group suggested employer-based financial encouragement to live in Kingsport, a code compliance assistant program, landlord grants and a reduction in builder fees. Development Services Director Lynn Tully said the city could create guidelines to help residents start neighborhood associations and expand the existing materials agreement to include sidewalk, stormwater and other infrastructure items.

During the last 15 years, Kingsport created a five-building Academic Village in the heart of downtown that today now boasts more than 2,500 students. Times-News publisher Keith Wilson, a member of the higher education group, said one goal is to double this number in the next five years.

“We propose first to create a city/county plan to achieve the state’s ’Drive to 55’ plan,” Wilson told those in attendance on Wednesday, noting the group recommends making the senior year of high school essentially the first year of college.

“This is going on in every high school across the state, but it’s presented as an opportunity program,” Wilson said. “We need to change it from an opportunity to an expectation.”

To achieve the “Drive to 55” goal, Wilson said the countywide facilities plan for schools needs to be implemented, reciprocal agreements between the city and county school systems should be formed, the Academic Village should be expanded and the funding formula for dual-enrolled students needs to be reassessed.

“If we can pull this off, we should see a large increase of graduating high school students seeking secondary education,” Wilson said.

Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are a growing concern, not only across the nation, but especially in the Volunteer State. In 2013, one in eight adults reported they had physician-diagnosed diabetes with 34 percent of the state’s population being obese.

Morris Baker, a member of the health and wellness group, said the panel’s overall goal recommendations were to expand the culture of health and wellness in the Model City, ultimately for the city to be branded as a community that supports healthy choices and a healthy lifestyle.

The five areas the group explored further was neighborhood access to healthy options, Bays Mountain, parks and greenspaces, policy and incentives and “big ideas.” Specific recommendations included developing new neighborhood centers (similar to the V.O. Dobbins Community Center), upgrading and expanding the Lynn View Community Center, upgrading Bays Mountain Park and expanding the Kingsport Greenbelt.

The final group of the day was the one addressing job creation and entrepreneurship. Julie Bennett, a member of that group, listed the existing organizations involved in job creation and entrepreneurship, such as KOSBE, ACCELNow, the Holston Business Incubator and NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership.

However, Bennett said there are some gaps in services, some duplication of effort and a need for better coordination among the organizations.

Recommendations from Bennett’s group include the creation of a Kingsport Product Creation Center — a specialty manufacturing center, that under a pilot program would manufacture food trucks. Further recommendations include an all-in-one economic development portal and the creation of a center of excellence for business retention and expansion that would serve as a resource for all existing Kingsport businesses.

The plan moving forward is that these recommendations will be handed off to a prioritization team during the week of April 4, a team comprised of two volunteers from each of the seven work groups. A prioritized list of recommendations will then go before the BMA on April 18, and ultimately the first-year projects will be worked into the city’s capital improvement plan on May 2.

“I’m all in,” Mayor Clark said at the end of day. “If we do all these things, we’re going to be able to achieve our vision. It’s not going to be easy, there’s going to be detractors, but we need everybody selling and marketing (this plan).

“The One Kingsport summit has ended. Now, the One Kingsport movement has started.”

For more details on the recommendations, see a special insert that will publish in the Times-News on March 30.

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