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How has MeadowView worked out?

Hank Hayes • Aug 27, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – There was failure in the 1980s, hope in the 1990s, and 25 years later, the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center is being hailed as a public-private partnership that paid off.

“There were many days we didn’t think we could get the deal done. We were delighted when it happened,” said former Kingsport Alderman and retired radio executive Ken Maness.

How did MeadowView get here?

The story begins back in the 1980s when Kingsport leaders began having conversations about some things they should be doing as a city to get ahead. Then-Mayor Norman Spencer appointed a committee to study various issues, and one of the things that quickly rose to the top was a performing arts center.

City leaders wanted the project downtown. A referendum appeared on the ballot and voters shut it down.

“The bottom line was the citizens of Kingsport did not feel they were properly involved,” Assistant City Manager Chris McCartt said during a presentation on MeadowView’s history given to the Kingsport Kiwanis Club. “They were looking downtown, and a lot of people were energized by that but there were also a lot of people who weren’t … one of the things I have found in the 20 years I have been working for the City of Kingsport is successful projects of any type, whether it is a park or school or road, in this town it begins and ends successfully … because the community owns it so much.”

The Kingsport Tomorrow organization then came on board to get a discussion going about different projects to address social issues and infrastructure, and put a Vision 2017 document together.

The need for a regional convention and entertainment complex was on its list of priorities.

“We have heard the term regionalism a lot lately … back in 1990 we were talking about a complex that would be regional … we want to have a facility that sets it apart from anything else,” McCartt noted.

In 1992, city leaders proposed a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for the construction and operational cost for the facility, and a subsequent referendum passed by a 2 to 1 margin.

“Community leaders got out, and knocked on doors to explain the situation, and where we were going,” McCartt stressed.

Maness said the initial idea was to put the project off the John B. Dennis bypass on what was then called the Childress property.

“We just couldn’t get enough of the landowners to work together and get enough land to make it happen,” Maness recalled. “It just happened that Eastman owned the land where the MeadowView (golf course) sat. The decision was made that would be a better place for it.”

Maness pointed out “all the paths we pursued” – looking at different projects from South Carolina to Michigan.

A groundbreaking was held in 1994, and the facility opened in 1996. Eastman and the City of Kingsport jointly owns the property, and Marriott manages the property.

How has this investment paid off?

The hotel’s occupancy has averaged 65 percent, and MeadowView’s economic impact is now more than $110 million per year, according to McCartt. In 1999, MeadowView’s appraised value was $33 million, and in 2017 it moved to $168 million, McCartt added.

The facility initially cost $39 million to build, and McCartt said the city was able to pay off the original debt in 2008.

“It was very important MeadowView have a very fresh look to it,” McCartt pointed out. “We have gone in several times to do renovations to the facility to keep that look. It’s also a high priority for Marriott ... we are rapidly approaching the payoff of the golf course.”

The golf course, The Cattails at MeadowView, recently got a national stage with the World Long Drive Tour to benefit the Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

“One thing I’ve learned in Kingsport that if it’s free, it’s going to be packed,” McCartt said. “ … We had well over 1,000 people show up … we had for two hours an international audience which provided a window to Kingsport for the world … the comments that were made for Kingsport, you can’t pay for that. It was a great showcase for the property and the City of Kingsport.

“We’ve got this for two more years, they told us when they left they are bringing more seats.”

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