Divided BMA set to vote on site for aquatic center Wednesday night

Matthew Lane • Aug 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen plans to hold a special called meeting tonight to discuss the proposed aquatic center and vote on a location for the new facility.

The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

Mayor Dennis Phillips said the meeting was called to give city leaders enough time to have a thorough discussion on the matter.

“(The topic) is too long for a regular work session, and it seems like at the work sessions any more, even when we start early, when you get to the end you don’t do (some topics) justice,” Phillips said. “I want to have a chance for (BMA members) to hear from the committee and hear why they chose Meadowview and allow any board member to express their opinion and desire for their location of the aquatic center.”

The BMA has been considering building an aquatic center somewhere within the city for more than 18 months. The idea thus far is to build a $12.6 million indoor/outdoor facility with two indoor pools (a lap pool and a warm pool) and two outdoor pools (an activity pool with two slides and a zero-depth children’s water area).

Two main issues are left to be resolved — the location and whether or not to co-locate the facility with the YMCA. The YMCA is interested in managing the facility regardless of whether it co-locates with the aquatic center.

The three sites being considered are Legion Pool, grocery store row (Sullivan and Clinchfield) and the Meadowview area (between the driving range and Cattails golf course).

The Meadowview site has been recommended twice by city staff and by a citizens committee appointed by Phillips. Three other reports recently conducted — engineering, demographics and traffic — all recommend the Meadowview site.

Hodge Associates, an architectural and engineering firm from Morristown, recently conducted an analysis of all three sites and issued a report with preliminary cost estimates that reflect property acquisition, structure demolition, site remediation, site work, traffic needs and landscaping.

According to the Hodge report, the grocery row site would cost $7 million in site work, Legion Pool would cost nearly $5 million, while Meadowview would cost $3.7 million. These costs do not include construction costs.

A majority of the BMA appears to support the Meadowview site, but others appear unconvinced, like Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote, who strongly supports the downtown location.

Phillips said he could live with either downtown or Meadowview, but that his vote would be for Meadowview.

“Based on the recommendation of the committee I appointed — and I have faith that they have worked and have looked at the pros and cons — and based on the representation that was on the committee, I certainly respect the decision they came up with,” Phillips said.

Mallicote said he would absolutely continue to push for the downtown location.

“I understand the arguments for Meadowview, but I don’t believe it’s convenient for our target audience. I’ve seen too many kids pouring out of our neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods on bikes or walking to the pool, and I think if you put it (at Meadowview), it makes it less accessible to the community,” Mallicote said. “It gives it a different feel, and it becomes an amenity for the affluent rather than a community amenity.

“I’m open-minded, but unless a pretty striking argument is made that I haven’t heard before, (my vote) probably will be (for downtown).”

If a site is selected tonight, city officials say it would likely be April when construction would begin and take 12 to 15 months to complete.

As for co-locating, Mallicote said he does not have a strong opinion one way or the other, while Phillips said he supports co-locating the facility with the YMCA.

“I support co-locating at this time based on the fact we will be given figures showing that this is a tax-saving measure for the citizens of Kingsport,” Phillips said.

City Manager John Campbell has said having the YMCA operate the aquatic center for the city would help the city with the operating costs for the facility. However, some people in the community — such as Stan Pace, owner of Gold’s Gym — think co-locating the aquatic center with the YMCA creates an unfair advantage for the YMCA.

“I believe it is not in the best interest of residents for the city to use tax dollars to combine forces with Gold Star Fitness (which I own), The Great Body Company, the YMCA or any other entity which provides identical upscale fitness services and competes with each other,” Pace wrote in a recent letter to the editor. “Combining forces with an entity that provides identical services to the same market creates a competitive disadvantage to the other taxpaying businesses, which also hurts residents that have chosen to use those other fitness clubs.”

Phillips said it is not his intent to drive other fitness centers out of business.

“(An unfair advantage) is one of the arguments. If there was no YMCA in the city today and the YMCA was not planning on building, then there may be some merit to that (argument),” Phillips said.

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