Kingsport mayor defends BMA decisions after critical column about arts funding

Rick Wagner • Sep 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Mayor Dennis Phillips Tuesday took former Alderman Dave Clark to task for a newspaper column about the city not helping fund a local college’s art programs downtown.

Also during the Kingsport Industrial Development Board meeting, Phillips said Hawkins County officials should consider letting Kingsport help with fire protection at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park.

Clark’s column in the Sept. 6 edition of the Kingsport Times-News called for a Kingsport economic summit and took the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to task for not agreeing to fund any downtown improvements to non-city buildings to allow East Tennessee State University art programs downtown, including bluegrass and painting classes.

“This was initially formed as a partnership between the Downtown Kingsport Association, the city and ETSU,” Clark wrote. “However, it appears that some of our leaders now fail to see the linkage between a vibrant arts community and a thriving community. One thing is clear: Without city support, this promising program will not survive.”

The mayor complained the BMA was in the dark until confronted with a request for funding at a meeting that week and that it should have come to the BMA first, not through longtime DKA member Mark Freeman.

“If you start working side deals and then say it won’t work without city involvement, that’s so asinine,” Phillips said. “We can find the space in buildings we already own, but probably not within 30 days.”

Phillips said DKA officials could not commit city funding to such a project, and with the pending city purchase of various buildings downtown it makes more sense to spend money to retrofit those for use by ETSU instead of paying rent to other building owners and installing, in one case, a dance floor in someone else’s building.

Aside from looking to purchase the Carriage House, Ward’s Feed and Seed Store, Tri-City Linen and Uniform Service (offered to the city by the owner), the Paul Adams and Associates Building, A-Hood Bonding, the Kingsport Firefighters Association Building and Jim’s Lawn Center near the pending downtown higher education center, the city also is in negotiations with Quebecor World to take ownership of the old Kingsport Press plant, 1.3 million square feet or 16 acres of building on just more than 20 acres of land.

The Farmers Market may be relocated there by April, Phillips said, and the city may sell parts of the property.

As for the call for another economic summit, Phillips said there’s no need for one right now. Phillips said the city is harvesting the fruits of the last summit and doesn’t need to have another to hear the same things over again.

The mayor also spoke out about the lack of permanent fire protection at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park just outside Surgoinsville, a joint development including Kingsport.

Gorman Waddell, an attorney on the KEDB and Phipps Bend Joint Venture Board, said the Surgoinsville Volunteer Fire Department may become the first responder to Phipps Bend fires if its insurance allows, replacing the Carters Valley Volunteer Fire Department, which pulled out as first responder Aug. 31 in a funding dispute with Hawkins County.

“It concerns me a lot you read about that in the paper,” Phillips said. “I don’t understand why they choose to ignore any offers that Kingsport makes.”

Lynn Johnson, a member of the KEDB and the Joint Venture Board, said he doesn’t see much more development without better fire protection. He said Church Hill and/or Kingsport should be first responders.

“Kingsport has substantial investment in a park without fire protection,” Phillips said.

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