KINGSPORT - The Kingsport Area Transit System has rearranged one of its bus routes to shuttle people to the Food City grocery store in Colonial Heights until construction is complete on the new Food City on Eastman Road.
Work began last month on the new 54,000-square-foot Food City grocery store located in the Crown Point shopping center. When completed in November, the new store will be the largest in the chain and include a second-floor community meeting room, full demonstration kitchen with a full-time chef, and a ValuCare Clinic with a nurse practitioner from Mountain States Health Alliance.
Prior to construction, Food City officials approached the city about having one of the KATS buses go out to the Food City in Colonial Heights during the five-month construction period. After discussing the matter and running the numbers, Transit Director Gary Taylor said the city agreed.
"We had one bus route that we could actually move out there and put service to them temporarily until the new store gets finished," Taylor said. "It's probably not the best fix because right now Food City at Eastman Road was the center point for just about all of our buses. We either use it for a transfer or a good pickup location."
Taylor said Route 4, which goes to the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Fort Henry Drive, now includes the Food City in Colonial Heights as a stop. This additional three miles to the route will cost an estimated $12,000 over the five-month period, Taylor said.
Since KATS is funded 50 percent by the federal government, 25 percent by the state and 25 percent by Kingsport, Taylor said the cost to the city of adjusting the route to the Food City in Colonial Heights would be about $3,000.
Mayor Dennis Phillips said he was told by Food City officials they would cover the city's expenses for the five-month period.
"Not one penny cost to the taxpayers of Kingsport," Phillips said.
Food City is also compensating customers who choose to go to the Colonial Heights store - if someone purchases $15 or more in groceries, they can get a coupon from the customer service window, which can be used for a return trip on the KATS bus. At the end of each month, Food City will reimburse Kingsport 50 cents per coupon collected, Taylor said.
City officials say this is the first time KATS has done something like this to accommodate one particular business.
"I think anything you do is subject to precedent setting, and you have to take these things on an individual basis," Phillips said. "This is a temporary situation where in the end we're almost assured that the sales tax income to the city will be more prior to their closing.
"The intent is you gain more than you lose, and that's the intent here. I don't have a problem being business friendly, especially if the alternative is a long-term vacant grocery store building."
Started in 1995, KATS operates four bus routes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Two buses service the eastern side of Kingsport, one bus handles the western end of town, and the fourth bus works the middle part of the Model City. KATS also operates four to five paratransit buses during the week.
In addition to stopping at Food City, KATS makes stops at the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Fort Henry Drive and White's Fresh Foods in downtown Kingsport. Taylor said the buses will also deviate to Kroger if a rider requests it.