KINGSPORT - They're hanging the artwork, arranging displays and double checking every last detail.
This Friday, the Downtown Kingsport Association will host the 7th annual Evening with the Arts, an event that kicks off a summer-long series of activities designed to draw folks to downtown Kingsport, and ultimately, boost business in the heart of the city.
"The Fourth of July events, Mardi Gras, the summer concert series, the Wilderness Trail Rod Run, Harvest Fare - it's going to be a busy summer," said DKA Executive Director Lisa Childress.
The Downtown Kingsport Association is a state and nationally recognized Main Street program, dedicated to the revitalization of the downtown district. And one goal through the Main Street program is promotion, which includes holding activities and events to increase foot traffic in the downtown area.
To accomplish that goal, DKA has various events on tap for this summer, starting with Evening with the Arts Friday. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with a "Champagne Preview" followed by an "Arts Celebration" at 7 p.m. The champagne preview costs $100 per person, which includes first viewing, champagne, a DKA Friend Membership, and the arts celebration.
Those who want to bypass the champagne preview can attend the arts celebration for $50.
Evening with the Arts is one of DKA's big fund-raising events. And this year, the organization plans to give part of the proceeds to the Children's Miracle Network through Holston Valley Regional Children's Hospital & Center, the region's only CMN affiliate.
Childress said 30 percent of the artwork sold Friday night and 10 percent of the ticket sales will go directly to the Children's Miracle Network.
In addition, DKA volunteers will help man the telephones to take pledges during the CMN telethon June 2.
On Saturday, May 26, DKA, in partnership with the Kingsport Antique & Rod Club, will hold the Wilderness Trail Rod Run from 3 to 8 p.m. on Main Street. The event will showcase a variety of cars, and will include live entertainment, door prizes, special awards, and games. Awards will be handed out at 8 p.m. The event is free.
On May 31, DKA kicks off its Twilight Alive Summer Concert Series on Broad Street. Concerts will be held beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday nights through the end of August. Dates are May 31, June 7, 14, 21, and 18, July 5 and 12, and Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30.
DKA's Fourth of July celebration along Main and Broad streets kicks off at 4 p.m. with Kid's Zone, a new addition this year featuring fun and games for the entire family. Concerts will entertain the crowds from 6 to 9:30 p.m., followed by fireworks at 9:50 p.m. Holston Valley is sponsoring the fireworks display, while entertainment sponsors include BB&T Insurance and Financial Services, Eastman Chemical Co., and Mark Freeman Associates.
DKA will kick off Fun Fest again this year with its annual Mardi Gras from 11:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 19. The event includes live entertainment, food and various activities. Merchants can participate by becoming designated bead stations, as well as decorating windows and lobbies in a Mardi Gras theme.
And Harvest Fare is returning this year after being canceled last year due to hot weather in early September, when it was traditionally scheduled. Childress said the event will be held later in the season this year, on Sept. 21 and 22, a Friday evening and Saturday. Harvest Fare will feature arts and crafts, games and activities, musicians, food, and a concert on Saturday evening on Broad Street.
In the fall, DKA will hold the Neil Danehy Golf Classic at a time to be announced. Its annual dinner and auction is set for Nov. 15, and its Merchant's Open House, Tree Lighting Ceremony and Gingerbread House Exhibit is scheduled for Dec. 1.
Holding events isn't the only duty of DKA. As part of its promotional goals as a Main Street program, the organization also markets the downtown district to encourage folks to live, work, shop, play and invest here. And to help in its marketing efforts, DKA recently received a $10,000 Innovation Grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. Childress said the grant will be used to fund Web site development and other marketing initiatives, including newspaper and magazine advertising, billboards, a new trifold pamphlet about DKA, and a membership folder for those joining the organization.
Childress said DKA's Web site is now being revamped and should be ready to launch this summer.
Promotion - both events and marketing efforts - is just one of four facets of the Tennessee Main Street program, which is administered through the Department of Economic & Community Development. The other three facets are organization, design and economic restructuring.
Childress said DKA is working on each of the Main Street facets. Under organization, Main Street communities are expected to encourage cooperation among their various individuals and groups to work toward a common goal of downtown revitalization.
Under design, communities are expected to showcase their best physical assets and create an inviting atmosphere in the downtown area.
In Kingsport, the city funds a facade program to help enhance storefronts in the downtown district. Several property owners have taken advantage of the program, while some are upgrading their interiors and constructing loft apartments on their upper floors.
Even DKA is getting into the swing of building renovation. Thanks to a $30,000 Community Development Block Grant, the organization purchased the old Kesterson building on Main Street, and is now in the process of clearing out the property in preparation for renovations.
Childress said DKA plans to establish an arts gallery and studio on the main level, and two loft apartments upstairs.
As part of the CDBG agreement, work on the property must be completed by the end of 2008. DKA has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the city's Historic Zoning Commission to begin renovations on the building. Once those renovations are completed, the property will serve as income for DKA through rental fees.
"We felt so strongly about economic redevelopment in downtown, we felt we could purchase the property, put the art gallery and studio in, and maybe have an artist live upstairs. Plus it's going to give DKA a means of revenue to help us move forward as a nonprofit," Childress said.
The fourth facet under the Main Street program is economic restructuring. Main Street communities are expected to strengthen their existing economic assets while expanding and diversifying their economic base.
For DKA, that means working to encourage a mix of businesses in the downtown district, Childress said.
Main Street communities must be recertified every year to remain in the program. The state's Main Street program is a coordinating program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Main Street Center.
Childress said being a Main Street community helps Kingsport and Sullivan County achieve three-star status, a designation that helps attract and retain business and industry.
"If we didn't have our Main Street program, there would be points deducted (on the three-star application). So it's real important that we have the Main Street program - even if it's just for getting the three-star award," Childress said.
She noted the Main Street designation cannot be transferred from one organization to another. "If something was to happen to DKA, the Main Street designation would be dissolved," she said. "So it's real important that we don't drop the ball now that we've got it started."
DKA first became a Main Street program in the early 1990s, but the state program was dissolved under Gov. Don Sundquist's administration.
In 2005, Gov. Phil Bredesen reinstated the program under the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. Kingsport applied in April 2005 and received its Main Street designation in September 2005.
Childress said folks who haven't visited downtown Kingsport recently need to make the trip.
"I encourage everyone that has not been downtown in the last year to take the time to come down and walk the streets and see all the activity that is going on. I think they're going to be surprised," she said.
For more information about DKA, visit www.downtownkingsport.org.