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Kingsport leaders admit to ‘struggling’ with proposed outdoor venue's price tag

Matthew Lane • Aug 21, 2018 at 8:42 AM

KINGSPORT — One of the most popular ideas to come out of the One Kingsport initiative — an outdoor venue at the General Shale property — received a fair amount of scrutiny Monday night by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

City leaders questioned the scope of the project, the estimated cost and whether the venue would have a big enough impact on the downtown area. After more than an hour of talks, the BMA requested a meeting with the One Kingsport Advisory Commission to further discuss the path forward with the outdoor venue project.

Last week, the advisory commission heard an update on the major One Kingsport projects and how they would be funded over the next year. As presented at that meeting, the outdoor venue project would include the venue ($2 million) and the extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Cherokee Street ($3 million).

The project would also include an off-road bicycle course adjacent to the outdoor venue ($125,000) and a 120-foot pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at Cherokee Street ($3 million). Everything except the road would be funded through One Kingsport money.

Assistant City Manager Chris McCartt said the $2 million for the venue was for a base project. From that, the design firm would give Kingsport a “cafeteria plan” with price options for additional amenities, such as a permanent stage or portable restrooms.

“We propose doing some initial design work ... then come back to the BMA to see how the price tag is trending,” McCartt said.

A CHANGE IN PLANS

What would have been going before the BMA Tuesday night was a funding plan that included, among other things, design money for the venue and the pedestrian bridge. Following Monday’s worksession, everything having to do with the outdoor venue was pulled from the funding plan.

“What I’m struggling with is this incredible capital intensive project just to get to a field,” said Alderwoman Jennifer Adler. “We’ve taken things out of the plan, but the price tag has not gone down a lot.”

“Three million dollars to move power lines, $3 million on a bridge and $3 million on (MLK Jr Drive). Is that the best value for our $9 million?” asked Alderman Joe Begley. “Or do we build a nice stage and venue somewhere else?”

“I struggle with it big time,” said Vice Mayor Mike McIntire.

Alderwoman Colette George said she would rather have one fabulous thing she could rally around rather than 10 little pieces of things the city would never accomplish.

Alderwoman Betsy Cooper agreed but continued by saying that doing nothing is not fair to anyone.

“We can’t just keep talking about it. We need to make a decision to do it or not do it,” Cooper said. “We should focus our energy on doing one thing well. I feel like we’re everywhere.”

The One Kingsport initiative began nearly three years ago with nearly 200 volunteers working for months brainstorming and refining “big ideas,” policy changes and capital projects to recommend to the BMA.

One year ago, almost to the day, the One Kingsport Advisory Commission presented city leaders with its recommendation of the top five areas the BMA should focus on in the future.

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