Sevier Terrace residents explore turning rec center into city park

Matthew Lane • Aug 4, 2013 at 12:13 AM

KINGSPORT — Some Sevier Terrace residents would like to see the neighborhood recreation center become a city park, similar to what has been done in the past with Ridgefields and more recently with Preston Forest.

However, the recreation center is suffering from quite a bit of financial strain — thousands of dollars in property tax penalties, an unpaid water bill to the city and looming IRS debt. Kingsport has even recently contracted out a private company to mow the grass at the center.

In other words, the residents need help. A lot of help.

The Sevier Terrace Recreation Center is a park located in the heart of the Sevier Terrace neighborhood and includes an L-shaped pool and kiddie area, bathhouse and concession building, tennis courts, a basketball court, ball field and picnic pavilion. A neighborhood association owns and has operated the facility in the past.

Residents built the members-only park back in the late 1950s, and the site became a hub of activity for families and children through the 1960s and 1970s. But as families aged and children moved away, the park received less and less attention over the years.

In recent years, neighborhood and financial support for the center has waned, association members have left for one reason or another, and the association’s board essentially disbanded.

The board re-formed about 18 months ago for the purpose of saving the property. In that time members have pushed for more interest from the neighborhood and have solicited donations and held fundraisers in an attempt to pay off the property’s debt. The center even opened its doors to the public a couple of years ago.

Jackie Whittemore, president of the STRC board, said the organization raised funds and paid off about $8,000 in city and county taxes. However, the center still has about $5,000 in property tax penalties, a $2,000 water bill from the city and $11,000 owed to the IRS dating back to 1998.

Whittemore said there are deed restrictions on the property and the property could revert to the Morrison heirs, whom the board is trying to locate.

The board has also recently received a summons from Sullivan County regarding a recent property tax levy heading to chancery court.

“We’re not getting ahead doing it on our own. We’re at a standstill. It’s hard to get people to donate money for something that’s nonfunctional,” Whittemore said. “We’re trying to save it and make it a place where families can come in and enjoy the property, but it’s hard to get ahead.”

Board members met with City Manager John Campbell in June to discuss options for the property and whether or not the city would be interested in taking it over for a city park.

Campbell said the city should consider any well-located, green space within a neighborhood for a city park.

However, Campbell noted there could be issues with the deed restrictions and the property reversion to the Morrison family. In addition, Campbell said the city is probably not interested in maintaining the center’s pool.

“We’ve not got to the point where we could make a presentation to (the Board of Mayor and Aldermen). I think there is an interest by this board to see it utilized,” Campbell said.

“I don’t know if ‘turning over’ is the right word. I don’t think they have the ability to just give land to the city.

“Maybe we could work out some long-term lease and put the property in use.”

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