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Kingsport drops outdoor venue from General Shale redevelopment plans

Matthew Lane • Feb 16, 2020 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — City officials are stepping away from the idea of building a multipurpose outdoor venue on the old General Shale site. The move comes after additional research on the property along with further study by consultants.

The options now on the table for the property are: an entirely residential area; a mix of residential and festival ground space; or festival ground space with a “last mile” distribution center.

The festival space would simply be a manicured green area with restrooms and possibly a concrete pad for portable stages. “Last mile” logistics refers to the final step of the delivery process from a distribution center to the end user.

Originally, consultants recommended that Kingsport build a multipurpose outdoor venue able to accommodate minor league baseball games and other events such as festivals, concerts and “cause” walks. The 25 adjacent acres were then to be marketed for residential development.

This information and stance from city officials came out of a strategic planning session of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen this month.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Arguably the biggest — and most popular — idea to come out of the 2015 One Kingsport summit was the construction of a large, outdoor venue on the old General Shale property, adjacent to Brickyard Park. City officials envisioned the venue being a “magnet” project for downtown.

Originally, Kingsport looked at having a fixed stage with tiered seating, but eventually the project evolved into a multipurpose venue, a facility used year-round and capable of accommodating everything from minor league baseball and soccer games to concerts, festivals and special events.

However, a feasibility study found the soil at the site to be “wet” and not immediately suitable for a heavy or large structure. The study also estimated the total cost of an outdoor venue and site work to be $14.5 million. Last August, the BMA approved a $150,000 contract for additional geotechnical work at the site along with a deeper economic analysis of the proposed venue.

“The soil is similar to other downtown soils,” City Manager Chris McCartt said. “It’s wet and needs to be replaced with engineered fill. That’s not surprising, but it does increase the costs.”

THE LATEST DEVELOPMENT

During last week’s planning session, Jason Hudson, the city’s economic development director, told the BMA that the consultants are not recommending building new stadiums without a residential component. And since Major League Baseball is considering doing away with most of the minor league teams in our region, consultants are scrapping the multipurpose venue from the list of options.

Throughout this entire process, city leaders have discussed building a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks (with a $3 million price tag) and extending Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Brickyard Park Drive.

Kingsport has submitted a grant request to the Tennessee Department of Transportation for the pedestrian bridge, but McCartt noted it is unlikely to be funded this year. As for the MLK extension, McCartt said that would be contingent on what the city does with the property.

The BMA plans to receive a recommendation on the General Shale property from McCartt in the near future. During last week’s planning session, several aldermen appeared to support the festival space/residential option, noting that Kingsport is in need of additional, newer, single-family homes.

Consultants estimate that 126 to 147 townhomes could be built on a 25-acre site on the General Shale property.

ADDING A PUMP TRACK

One aspect of the overall project that could be moving forward in the near future is the creation of a pump track for mountain bikes across from Brickyard Park, closer to Industry Drive. Such a track can be made of dirt, wood, asphalt or concrete and include rollers, banked turns and other features.

Aldermen informally agreed that Kingsport should move forward with the project.

“If you could offer a community a place to live, to shop and have trail usage for recreational fun, that’s where I would want to live,” said Tony Williams, the owner of Reedy Creek Bikes, who has been working with the city on the pump track project. “As a small business owner downtown, I would love to see all of that development (at General Shale).”