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Editorial: Kingsport refuses to stand still

Editorial Board • Oct 21, 2019 at 3:30 PM

“If you’re standing still, you’re going backward,” said Kingsport City Manager Chris McCartt as he delivered the annual state of the city message. And as McCartt outlined, Kingsport continues to move forward — in relatively small steps even as work continues on what might be the next big leap, the proposed outdoor venue project.

As per an August vote of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, additional geotechnical work on the project site at the former General Shale property is underway, as is an economic analysis. This project results from former Mayor John Clark’s ONEKingsport initiative wherein community leaders met in 2015 to develop a five-year roadmap for the city. The big idea to come out of that was to build an outdoor venue in, or close to, downtown. Consultants subsequently recommended the city consider a combination entertainment facility and ballpark.

Every member of the BMA voted to continue moving forward on the project with the exception of Mayor Pat Shull, who said, “I don’t think it’s well understood of what’s being considered. I just want to slow the train down. I don’t want to stop the train.”

Mayor Shull may be correct that the notion of a combined facility may not have wide public support. The city invested $2 million to build Hunter Wright Stadium — home of the Kingsport Mets — 24 years ago. But that was 24 years ago and, frankly, upgrades to that facility have been mostly minor and uninspired. While the stadium serves a continued purpose, that purpose is of narrow scope and always will be.

So the economic analysis is a necessary next step to help the BMA decide if the recommended “downtown” venue should be a go or no go.

Since it was first conceptualized, discussion over the outdoor venue has included a segment of residents who seem to think Kingsport is and has been in some financial distress over its continued investments. This dates back to the building of MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center and the adjacent golf course in 1996.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Kingsport is in excellent financial health. As McCartt reminded, the city continues to be well below both the state’s imposed limit of a 20 percent debt load, as well as the city’s self-imposed 10 percent limit. It finished the last fiscal year with $1.5 million to spare, which will be used in part for additional street paving.

Earlier this year, Moody’s Investors Service gave the city an Aa2 credit rating on its 2019 bonds, the third-highest credit rating that can be assigned. That rating, said Moody’s, “reflects the city’s large and growing tax base, above-average customer concentration (and) stable and sufficient reserve levels.”

Meanwhile, Bays Mountain Park and the Kingsport Aquatic Center are receiving major upgrades, the city just broke ground on the Miracle Field project, street paving got an additional $500,000 that will in turn leverage another $2 million in state money, the new transit center opened earlier year, Lynn View Community Center has received significant improvements, and work continues to extend the Greenbelt.

Kingsport continues to succeed and grow because it refuses to stand still. We urge the BMA to consider this project if the economic viability study proves positive.

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