Kingsport mayor says new TBR member should support higher ed center

Rick Wagner • Feb 6, 2007 at 9:36 AM

KINGSPORT - Mayor Dennis Phillips is pushing for Gov. Phil Bredesen to appoint a Northeast Tennessee Board of Regents member receptive to the proposed higher education center downtown.

And the mayor also put forth a plea Tuesday for residents interested in the city's future to run for the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen and for businesses to consider giving employees latitude to run and serve.

"It needs to be someone who is pro-Kingsport," Phillips said during the monthly Kingsport Economic Development Board meeting of the replacement for Leslie Parks Pope. Pope's appointment by former Gov. Don Sundquist to the TBR expires June 30, and Democrat Bredesen will choose her replacement.

Phillips said the new regent needs to put education above politics and believe that education is "not about building a power base for some entity. Instead, education needs to be about people."

Northeast State Technical Community College - a TBR school - is to run the center. Knoxville-based University of Tennessee, Bristol, Tenn.-based King College and other schools have shown interest in participating in it. Students could take two years of classes from Northeast State and then finish their four-year degrees from UT, King or other participating schools.

East Tennessee State University, a TBR school that operates the University Center near Allandale, has declined an invitation to participate and give up its existing Kingsport campus, although President Paul Stanton said he supports the effort. Pope serves on the ETSU Foundation.

Phillips and Kingsport Times-News Publisher Keith Wilson have led the charge for the proposed center downtown, to be about 50,000 square feet and cost about $10 million.

The BMA is to consider the center proposal by its first meeting in March.

Phillips is proposing its funding come from $2.1 million generated from part of the quarter-cent sales tax paying for MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center. However, the city is owed about $3 million to its general fund from shortfalls over the years, and another $1 million in annual tax revenue will be needed for other MeadowView debt that won't be paid off fully until 2017.

Phillips said it is imperative the board keep moving forward on the center and other issues.

"It's extremely important that we keep the momentum going," said Phillips, who along with Vice Mayor Larry Munsey has plans to seek re-election. Ken Maness has said he is not seeking re-election, and Ken Marsh has said he was undecided but recently picked up a petition.

Newcomers who said they are seeking positions on the board thus far are Ray Cain, Carl Hale, Bill Hillman and Richard Samples, while Jantry Shupe, who ran previously, has picked up a petition.

On other matters:

•The KEDB voted to approve switching the responsibility for the personal property tax break program for Weyerhaeuser Co. to Domtar Paper Co. LLC. Under a pending merger, stock of the combined fine papers company will be sold under Domtar Inc.

•Betty Martin of NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership said Thomas Construction plans to start work on the residential development on KEDB-owned land near Tri-Cities Regional Airport in June or July.

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