Phillips’ comments come after Eastman Chemical Co. announced last month a $15 million expansion project for the hotel — adding two 55-room towers and bringing the total number of rooms to 305.
In addition to the hotel expansion, Eastman is also footing the bill to renovate the facility’s existing 195 rooms. Once completed, all 305 guest rooms will feature the latest technology, including 32-inch flat panel televisions that will allow guests to plug their laptops into the TV screen.
“I believe it’s time for this board to re-examine MeadowView and see what investments, if any, we should be considering,” Phillips said.
A couple of items that catch Phillips’ eye are the fact MeadowView does not have a pool, and when he takes his 85-year-old mother to lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, she has to walk “a half mile.”
“We need to see if the convention facilities are adequate. Are we missing conventions because of the size of our convention facilities? MeadowView has been a tremendous success, but are there things we can do to make it even better?” Phillips said. “The only way we’re going to know that is if we sit down with the staff of MeadowView and see what we are missing — their concerns and needs.”
To reach this goal Phillips said he has charged the MeadowView Advisory Committee to examine the center’s operation, with an eye toward potential future investments.
“If construction is going to be going on in addition to the rooms, we don’t need to take a year to build the rooms and then come back under construction for something else,” Phillips said. “That’s why I see the importance of asking the committee if there are things that could be done during the room-building period that will prevent us coming back and doing more construction.”
MeadowView has 35,000 square feet of convention center space and 30,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space. There have been no major renovations at the center since it opened in 1996. However, new carpeting, wallpaper and sound system equipment has been installed over the years.
Andy King, general manager of MeadowView, said Phillips’ proposal is a good idea.
“I think it’s worthwhile to start talking about it because we have an 11-year-old product and we’re having to remain competitive,” King said. “We’re competing with Asheville, Roanoke and Lexington. In this market there is a new facility opening up in Sevierville almost twice the size of what we are now.”
MeadowView is a partnership between the city of Kingsport and Eastman Chemical Co. The city owns the convention center and adjoining Cattails golf course, while Eastman owns the hotel and restaurant. Marriott manages the property.
When Kingsport took on $25.7 million in debt to pay for the construction of the facility, city residents voted 2 to 1 by referendum in 1992 to increase the sales tax by a quarter cent and earmark the money — about $3.2 million annually — toward the debt and operating subsidy for the center and golf course.
The final payment on MeadowView was made in September 2007. Beginning in fiscal year 2009, approximately $2.1 million will be available to the city. The golf course will not be fully paid off until 2017.
Phillips said he doesn’t think you can discuss MeadowView without discussing whether or not the quarter cent sales tax should be used as a source of funds for any investment at the facility.
“Before we spend any money we have to see what the real needs are, that will bring benefit and people to Kingsport,” Phillips said.