City looking elsewhere for new ball fields to avoid interfering with theater plans

Matthew Lane • Aug 9, 2013 at 8:31 PM

KINGSPORT — At least for now, Kingsport’s new baseball and softball complex will not be located on the property behind the Kmart Supercenter — the same property a group of local developers has been working on for more than a year to locate a new Marquee Cinemas theater complex.

Earlier this year, Eastman Chemical Co. announced “Project Inspire” — a $1.6 billion reinvestment plan — and one aspect of the plan calls for the construction of a new corporate office building on the site of its existing ball field complex on Wilcox Drive.

Soon after, Kingsport agreed to Eastman’s request to build a replacement complex and city officials have said Kingsport would also incorporate Eastman’s ball leagues into the parks and recreation department.

City officials earmarked $3.5 million in an upcoming bond issuance for the complex and over the past two months have been looking at potential sites to accommodate the new facility. Kingsport would like to have the new complex built by April 2015.

City Manager John Campbell, Mayor Dennis Phillips and East Stone Commons Developer Roger Ball have had discussions in recent weeks about a potential site for the complex - nine acres of land, owned by Ball, located behind the Kmart Supercenter.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen held a special called meeting Friday morning to discuss whether the city should option Ball’s property.

There’s just one problem — a local developer says he currently has an option on that property.

Jessie Hensley of Tri-City Grading Inc., has partnered with Bristol, Tenn.-based KBM Commercial Properties LLC and has been working with Marquee Cinemas for more than a year to locate a new, 12-screen theater on the site. Conceptual plans also call for an adjacent apartment complex.

The site is approximately 19 acres — roughly half owned by Ball and the other half by the partnership. It had been owned by the YMCA, but the partnership closed on the property within the past week. Hensley says he has an option on the property; Ball has indicated Hensley does not.

Phillips said the point of Friday’s meeting was for the BMA to consider Ball’s offer for a 90-day option on the property, with $5,000 down and $75,000 an acre.

“There is a difference of opinion between Jessie and Roger on the option and we are not going to get in the middle of whether he does or doesn’t,” Phillips said. “Our concern is if Roger is going to option this property to someone else. It’s a little insurance on a piece of property for 90 days that we may or may not use for ball fields.”

However, Phillips also pointed out he does not want the city to interfere with the Marquee Cinema project currently proposed for the site.

“Our first priority is to get a theater in Kingsport and I don’t want to do anything that will have a negative effect on that,” Phillips said.

Campbell recommended the BMA move forward with the option, saying of the 15 sites the city has looked at for the new ball field complex, the theater site is the least costly to prepare. Hensley said he has done $800,000 worth of site and wetlands remediation work on the property to prepare it for the theater.

In July, Campbell commissioned Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon — a Kingsport-based engineering and architectural firm — to draft conceptual drawings of the complex on the theater site.

Even if Kingsport were to purchase the nine acres from Roger Ball, the city would still need the remaining nine acres from the theater developers to accommodate a four-field complex.

“Without both pieces, there’s no reason to take this option,” Phillips said.

Ryan Rabah, vice president of leasing at KBM Commercial Properties, indicated in a letter to Phillips that the partnership would be willing to sell its nine-acre property to the city for $150,000 an acre, if the partnership does not pursue its current plans.

“That offer is second to what we’re doing,” Hensley said, adding the partnership’s first plan is to move forward with theater and apartments. “But we’re willing to work with the city if that plan does not happen.”

Phillips said 30 days is the longest Kingsport can wait on Ball’s property and would be wasting $5,000 if there is no chance of getting the other property.

Alderwoman Colette George made the motion for the BMA to reject the offer from Ball, which her fellow aldermen agreed with.

“If they plan to use (the property) for something else, we don’t want to stop it. We need to go with other options,” George said.

“It sounds like we’re 90 percent confident this site isn’t going to work,” said Vice Mayor Mike McIntire. “We need to take it off the board and go with the second or third site instead of sitting here and twiddling our thumbs.”

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