Meet Melissa

Hank Hayes • Jul 17, 2017 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – Melissa Sanders and Sherri Mosley share the same dream.

Mosley, the former executive director of the Downtown Kingsport Association (DKA), said in her exit interview that the only thing missing from her resume was the restoration of the State Theatre on Broad Street.

Sanders, the newly appointed DKA executive director, wants to see that restoration happen on her watch.

“State Theatre is something we’ve put a lot of focus into that we want to turn into something,” Sanders said in an interview. “Seeing State Theatre in 1957 or in 1936, the progression it’s gone through is incredible. What’s most impactful is to see all the people surrounding the theatre going to see these shows and the traffic.”

DKA, said Sanders, has awarded about $20,000 to the State Theatre Company to do an analysis to see what can be done with the building, which has asbestos issues and water damage.

The plan, she noted, is to restore the State Theatre and bring it back to be an event venue.

“I’m putting all my faith into them,” Sanders said of the State Theatre Company. “They are a strong team and they want it bad. I admire their persistence. I think within the next month or so, I think we’re going to have a pretty solid answer on what direction that is heading.”

On Mosley’s watch, downtown became more millennial-friendly with the opening of new craft beer establishments and family-oriented entertainment venues like the LampLight Theatre. More specialty retail businesses like the Abingdon Olive Oil Company opened their doors downtown. DKA also took PEAK, the Kingsport young professionals organization, under its wing. Mosley’s idea was to use DKA’s recognized Main Street designation and build committees around a four-point approach: Design, organization, promotion and economic vitality. She coordinated merchant meetings to talk about marketing and doing open house events.

What is your plan for your job as executive director?

“First and foremost, what I want to accomplish is more engagement,” Sanders responded. “Being new to the area, I have noticed so much going on around town in what is considered to be a smaller community. In that regard with so much going on I want to make sure everybody knows about it. Increasing awareness and promotion and marketing the downtown area, I think, is going to be a critical part of my experience and trying to figure out all of the obstacles we’ve had in the past so we can move forward, drive more business for our local merchants and really make this not just the heart of Kingsport but more of a destination.”

What’s your background?

“I worked for Dale Carnegie,” she answered. “I’m originally from Florida. I was director of student life and campus engagement at Eastern Florida State College. Each time as we progressed, I realized how much these jobs aligned from the event planning to financial planning to building relationships. That’s very much what I had to do in my former position. I used to coach softball at the college as well. I’m very familiar with bringing strangers into town. The board saw the same thing.”

What was your reaction when you first saw downtown?

“I saw the charm, the character,” Sanders reacted. “There’s a lot of people who might think differently about the industrial town and when you see Eastman (Chemical Co.) in the background. I love it. I just think it really tells our story as a community. It just brings so much unique character. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I like to look at the pictures of the old downtown. What I enjoy most is to see downtown throughout the years and what we want to bring back. The mission of the Downtown Kingsport Association is to revitalize the downtown area and bring these old buildings back to life. Looking at these archives has been a lot of fun and see who we were from day one in 1917.”

How can downtown Kingsport make itself attractive to millennials?

“Kingsport has so much to offer,” she said. “The promotion factor is so big. When people hear Kingsport, they think Eastman which is great because that’s jobs. But what else do we have? I hope to be a role model for bringing millennials into this area. I would agree we need more living spaces and more redevelopment. In recent meetings, we’ve discussed creating that livability factor into Kingsport. What downtown brings to that is urban living, it’s what’s hip … that loft living. My husband and I have a joke about it – everything is seven minutes away. Once you’re downtown, anything and everything you need is seven minutes away. You’re in the heart of Kingsport. We need to diversify events more and include everything from family oriented events to events like our annual wine festival.”

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