KEDB pilot program would fund community improvements with Eastman tax money

Hank Hayes • Jun 4, 2013 at 10:48 PM

KINGSPORT — A so-called “pilot agreement” designed to cement Eastman Chemical Company’s $1.6 billion “Project Inspire” with city leaders was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Kingsport Economic Development Board.

Included in the agreement is a list of community improvements Eastman is asking to happen with additional tax revenues coming from the project.

Last week, Eastman announced the project would add 300 new jobs locally and invest in safety and environmental projects, warehouse capacity, building renovations and a new office building.

The announcement indicated Eastman is committed to be headquartered in Kingsport for years to come.

All over town, restaurant and company message boards read: “Thanks a billion, Eastman.”

KEDB legal counsel Gorman Waddell said the first part of the agreement is linked to the planned new office building on Eastman’s corporate campus.

When the building comes online in 2015, the property will be deeded to KEDB and it will lease the property back to Eastman for 10 years, Waddell said.

Eastman would then pay real estate taxes to the city and Sullivan County on a graduated scale, Waddell added.

The other part of the agreement, said Waddell, is “what Eastman would like to see the city and board do with these incremental tax amounts” from Project Inspire.

Eastman’s request list, Waddell said, includes: A new baseball and softball complex (Eastman said last week it is considering using its recreation area as the site for the new office building); tennis court improvements; increased school support to achieve and maintain nationally recognized educational excellence; J. Fred Johnson Stadium improvements; road improvements around the perimeter of the Eastman site; an incentive fund with priority for Tri-Cities Regional Airport to attract direct flights to key airport hubs; developing and upgrading housing options and amenities to attract world class talent to live and work in Kingsport; incentives to attract unique restaurants and retail establishments including Kingsport Town Center improvements; improvements to Borden Park and the Bays Mountain Nature Center; Kingsport Civic Auditorium modernization; and Legion Park redevelopment.

“We appreciate your consideration in this matter, and we look forward to our continued partnership in the community. We’re excited,” Eastman Vice President and General Manager J. Parker Smith, an ex-officio KEDB member, told board members before they voted.

KEDB member Keith Wilson, publisher of the Kingsport Times-News, asked how a system of dedicated tax revenues would work with specific community improvements.

Kingsport City Manager John Campbell, an ex-officio KEDB member, responded: “You have capital items (Eastman officials) have brought up ... with one or two exceptions, most are already in the (city’s capital improvements) plan. .. The board of mayor and aldermen would have to decide the priorities.”

Mayor Dennis Phillips, another ex-officio KEDB member, added: “I think what Eastman is saying is they want us to emphasize these areas and hope we would emphasize these areas. If we’re smart, we’ll listen.”

KEDB Secretary/Treasurer Lynn Johnson noted Eastman made similar requests decades ago when the company’s plant site agreed to be annexed by the city.

“It’s not new in terms of the request,” Johnson noted.

Phillips pointed out there was “an awful lot of work” put into keeping Eastman’s corporate headquarters in Kingsport.

“I made the statement the other day ‘If we were sitting here trying to determine what we would do to keep the Eastman headquarters here, we would probably be devoted to just about everything,’” Phillips said. “I hope the community realizes what a commitment this is on Eastman’s behalf. ... I think the whole mood of this city has been changed for the positive, the 97 percenters who are positive ... I think we will see a lot of retail sales because of this. When people feel good about their employment, I think they will spend money. It’s a pat on the back to this community the way they have responded to this and made Eastman proud.”

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