The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has been considering building a $12.6 million indoor/outdoor aquatics center somewhere within the city. The center would include two indoor pools (25-yard-by-50-meter lap pool and a four-lane warm pool) and two outdoor pools (an activity pool with two slides and a zero-depth children’s water area).
City leaders are also considering co-locating the new center with the YMCA in order to help with operating costs. Legion Pool is subsidized by the city to the tune of $60,000 to $70,000 a year, and city officials say partnering with a wellness facility could make the difference of $100,000 to $200,000 a year in operating costs.
Earlier this year, city staff recommended the facility be built in the Meadowview area of town, possibly along Wilcox Drive, on a 10-acre site in order to accommodate both facilities. Eastman Chemical Co. has agreed to donate 12 acres of land in this area for the facility, with an additional two- to five-acre donation being a possibility.
After studying the site further, along with other sites in town, city staff again returned to the BMA last week and recommended the Meadowview site.
However, at least two or three aldermen were not sold on the site. Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote preferred Supermarket Row in downtown Kingsport as the site while Aldermen Ken Marsh and Pat Shull opposed the Meadowview site and questioned the need to co-locate.
At that time the BMA requested city staff provide more detailed information about the top three sites (Legion, Meadowview and downtown) and return in 30 days with an update.
On Wednesday, Phillips announced he had appointed a citizens advisory committee to consider data about population densities, location logistics and economic development considerations regarding the aquatics center and return in 45 days with a recommendation on a site.
“I intend to appoint members of the community representing the widest possible cross-section of Kingsport, with emphasis on both youth and seniors,” Phillips said. “I’m looking for completely objective input. This is the sort of facility that will serve the community for the next 40-50 years, so we have to make certain we have thoroughly vetted the location.”
Phillips said the committee would assume the facility be the indoor/outdoor option, co-locating with the YMCA, but that the group could recommend any site within the city and not just the top three sites investigated by city staff. Phillips said he does not have a site preference and would be fine with any of the top three.
“I appointed the committee because it appeared we had great support for the aquatics center, and we had support to the center and YMCA operating together,” Phillips said. “The one thing I felt we did not have total agreement on was the location. A lot of people want, for sentimental reasons, to leave the pool where it is. Some people want it downtown and some feel we need it regardless of where it is.
“We don’t want to take a positive thing ... and make it a bad situation because of the location.”
Don Schumacher, president of Sports Marketing Management and Consulting, has been retained by the Kingsport Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to conduct a review of sports facilities in Kingsport, including the potential for a new aquatics center.
According to a preliminary report, Schumacher came to town last month for three days and reviewed seven possible sites for an aquatics center and found the only one with a suitable location and sufficient space is the Meadowview site.
Schumacher also suggested the pool length be 25 yards, rather than a more expensive 50 meter pool and that one new, very flexible indoor pool would better serve the needs of the community than two new pools.