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Former residents, officials bid farewell to Lee Apartments

Matthew Lane • May 9, 2018 at 7:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Lee Apartments, the city’s oldest public housing development, will soon be coming down.

And in its place at least 50 townhouses and duplexes will be built. This new neighborhood will be called the Grove at Poplar Dale, named after a nearby grove of oak trees and the surrounding streets of Poplar and Dale.

“(Lee Apartments) has served its purpose and been an anchor in this community, but the years have taken its toll,” said Maria Catron, deputy director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority. “Demolition is the first phase and we’re excited about how the change will be to the Midtown neighborhood as a whole.”

The Midtown Redevelopment Project hit its latest milestone on Wednesday when the KHRA held a demolition ceremony in the Lee courtyard.

More than 20 former residents, along with state and local officials, came out to formally bid farewell to the 128-unit complex. The KHRA plans to demolish the buildings later this summer and eventually replace them with new rental units.

A COMMON BOND

Local photographer Earl Carter lived in Apt. 103 from 1957 to 1965, his coming of age years, as he explained to the crowd on Wednesday. Carter said he made lasting friendships there, and he’s still friends with those people today.

“We shared a bond living here. We had a shared experience,” Carter said. “Even though you’re going to tear this down and we’re going to miss it, we share memories and our lifelong friendships will keep.”

On a typical spring day at Lee, Carter said, there was no shortage of kids outside playing, whether they were rollerskating down the street, running around the apartments or playing kick the can under a light at night.

In the summer evenings, the Salvation Army would come by one night a week and perform under the streetlights. Government cheese made the best grilled cheese sandwiches and the Civitan Club’s fruit baskets were greatly appreciated, Carter said.

“I remember trading comic books right down on that corner porch, baseball cards were all over the place and we always had enough kids to get up a ball game. That was never a problem,” Carter said. “I can tell you for sure, the kids I grew up with and ones I knew turned out pretty damn good. They really did.”

“Amen,” said someone from the crowd.

THE MIDTOWN PLAN

In addition to redeveloping the Lee site, the KHRA also plans to remodel and rehabilitate the remainder of its public housing units at Cloud, Dogwood Terrace, Holly Hills and Tiffany Court. These locations will receive infrastructure improvements, new plumbing and electrical and interior upgrades, such as new flooring, bathrooms, paint and interior surfaces.

The entire project is estimated to cost $51 million with Kingsport agreeing earlier this year to pitch in $3 million for its portion. The remainder of the funding will come from a variety of state and federal sources, including the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

On Wednesday, the THDA announced it has authorized $21.8 million in tax exempt bonds and $12 million to $14 million in low income tax credits for the project.

“What I hope is this $34 million commitment on our part signals our support for this project, but also our confidences in our partners in the KHRA,” said Ralph Perrey, the executive director of the THDA.

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