Nearly 20 years ago, Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier spearheaded a visioning process that led to such major initiatives as MeadowView Convention Center and the Academic Village. Mayor John Clark successfully campaigned for his first term in 2015 on the need for a visioning update, and later that year gathered hundreds of residents for a two-day summit to create a five-year roadmap.
Various projects were recommended, premier among them an outdoor venue at Brickyard Park for festivals, major concerts, car and boat shows, hot air balloon launches, tournaments, and a host of similar outdoor events. Over the following months, that proposal morphed into an expanded baseball stadium/multipurpose venue with an estimated cost of around $12 million.
It includes bridging the railroad tracks possibly at the end of Cherokee Street to tie into the downtown area and extending Industry Drive for improved access. The Kingsport Mets would relocate there from Hunter Wright Stadium, which would be used for tournaments and other activities.
This study is the next logical step, provided it doesn’t become just another study that finds a final resting place on a shelf collecting dust.
It will develop an initial design and determine the scope and cost of the project including best use of other property at Brickyard Park.
That will give the BMA a definitive plan it can vote on and will also be useful in developing grant funding and partnerships such as working with CSX to bridge the railroad tracks, perhaps with something more than just pedestrian access. To fully merge it with downtown, it must accommodate vehicular traffic.
If anything, the cost of this project, done right, will increase over initial estimates, which may give some on the BMA a case of the vapors. Mayor Clark has said that such a project “is going to take courage,” and he is spot on.
In the three years since the ONEKingsport process began, little of substance has followed it, and because of that, momentum has been lost and confidence eroded. To regain it, the BMA must sink teeth into something on the scale of MeadowView or the Academic Village, something unique to the region. This project is the meat on the table. The city should not cheap it out, nor should it be phased over several years. The BMA should fully invest itself in seeing it done in one fell swoop.
Over the years, Kingsport leaders have been careful stewards of the city’s finances, keeping taxes down and the city well under its debt limit. The last major project was the $13.7 million water intake upgrade finished in 2017. The next one should be the stadium/outdoor venue, and it should be under contract — if not under construction — before 2019 is done.