KINGSPORT - New shopping centers, retail developments and office buildings appear to be popping up all over town, and even more are planned. Could Kingsport be turning the corner and catching up with its neighboring cities? The candidates for the upcoming city election weigh in on Kingsport's recent spike in development.
On May 15 Model City voters will go to the polls to elect three people to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Their choices are two incumbents - Vice Mayor Larry Munsey and Alderman Ken Marsh - and four challengers - Ray Cain, Bill Hillman, Richard Samples and Jantry Shupe.
The Times-News recently asked the candidates a series of questions addressing issues facing the Model City, including annexation, education and the proposed higher education center in downtown Kingsport.
This story is part six of the series and will highlight the answers to the following question.
Q: Kingsport has experienced, and is experiencing, several major developments - East Stone Commons, the Kingsport Pavilion, a new Lowe's on Stone Drive and the redevelopment of the Crown Point shopping center. What are your thoughts on how Kingsport helps and fosters development and redevelopment? Do you support tax increment financing? What types of incentives - if any - should Kingsport offer to developers?
Cain: The BMA and city staff have done a great job promoting Kingsport as a special place, which it is. I think the number one reason we are seeing such growth is because of our citizens. We have shown that we will support businesses if they will build here. Success breeds success. It is a win-win situation for both the residents and the businesses. Both commercial and residential development has been helped.
Tax increment financing is a great incentive. The facade loan program set up for downtown Kingsport has really been helpful. The materials purchase agreement between the city and the developers has been a great success. The new market credit program can also help in a lot of areas. All of these are great pluses which will help the growth of the city.
Hillman: Kingsport is a catalyst for development and encourages development. I support these developments and offering incentives. But I feel Kingsport is approaching the saturation point for shopping centers and strip malls. We need to focus more on rebuilding our industrial and manufacturing base. This is critical for Kingsport's future, and I would be more inclined to offer incentives for this type of development.
Marsh: Kingsport has turned the economic corner after losing approximately 15,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 20 years. It has been a long journey, but the retail and housing developments we see in every direction are proof that new capital, development and jobs are coming our way. Annexation is one of the steps that is promoting this renaissance. Infrastructure materials agreements with developers are another positive government step to aid development.
Availability of business development parks such as Crossroads at affordable, not subsidized prices, make good economic sense. Tax increment financing should be used selectively, not indiscriminately. Two of the three approved TIF agreements make excellent sense. One is a big mistake. Good, economical services and a business-friendly community are also major assets in attracting businesses, developments and developers.
Munsey: I think each potential economic development/redevelopment project should be analyzed on its own merits, and the city and our economic partners should invest in our future. To enhance industrial development we should be sure that we have adequate roads, water and sewer, and other infrastructure in place, and we should use tax abatement to level the playing field as much as possible as developers evaluate alternate locations in various states.
I think we should continue to do everything that we can to make our processes as "developer friendly" as we can and that we should expand our new materials agreement with developers. I am a very strong supporter of tax increment financing, and I think it has worked tremendously well in bringing us major developments that may not have been possible without it.
Samples: I support tax increment financing. It is a means of helping developers to build new property or redevelop substandard property which in the long term raises the tax base for the city.
Shupe: Being a native of Kingsport, I remember always hearing Johnson City gets all the good businesses. Well, for the first time in my 32 years I hear the tide has turned and Kingsport is experiencing the most exciting growth I have ever seen. I think current and past mayoral leadership has ignited on such potential. John Campbell has certainly catered to the poised atmosphere of growth in Kingsport. If it is tax increment financing, which certainly helps, then I say: If it is working, it ought not be fixed."