City Manager John Campbell points out the different locations for the Higher Ed Center to members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen as they stand in front of the Carriage House Tuesday. Erica Yoon photo.
KINGSPORT — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen took the first step toward purchasing the Tri-City Linen and Uniform Co. building Tuesday night — a building that will likely be used in connection with the proposed academic village being envisioned in downtown Kingsport.
The BMA voted 5-2 Tuesday night to purchase the 53,000-square-foot property for $782,225. The property appraised for $745,000.
Alderman Ken Marsh and Pat Shull voted against the measure, saying this purchase goes beyond the scope of what the BMA has agreed to do in connection with the academic village.
The Tri-City Linen property is located on Shelby Street adjacent to the Model City Motors building and lies within an area of downtown city leaders are envisioning to be an academic village. According to a draft master plan, the academic village calls for a higher education center and an allied health facility to be located on Clay Street and room for expansion and renovation along Market Street and the Tri-City Linen building.
Because of this, when the owners of the property offered to sell it to the city a few months ago, City Manager John Campbell said the city looked into the possibility of purchasing the property.
Campbell said the property — which includes three buildings — could be used as additional space for the Regional Center for Applied Technology, Kingsport Adult Education, the ETSU arts program, city offices and a place to park Kingsport Area Transit System buses short term.
“It’s an excellent addition to the academic village concept, a bridge to Broad Street, and it’s very fortunate the timing has worked out,” Campbell said. “It’s an opportunity that was there and I would be remiss if I did not present it to you. I think it’s a very wise purchase for the city.”
Campbell said $300,000 of the purchase price would come from KATS funds with the remainder coming from $2 million budgeted earlier this year for property acquisition relating to the higher education center.
Alderwoman Valerie Joh said it would be ludicrous for the city to pass up buying the building.
However, Shull said Kingsport would be taking on a whole new role by purchasing this property.
“We’re not in the post secondary education business,” Shull said. “It’s not our responsibility to grow higher education.”
The BMA has voted unanimously to fund the construction of a $12 million, 50,000-square-foot higher education center and a $4.8 million, 42,000-square-foot allied health building in downtown Kingsport. Construction on the allied health building begins next month and is slated to be open in the fall of 2008; the higher education center is slated to open by the fall of 2009.
“Where is it written the city should own all of downtown?” Marsh said “Here we are dealing with a property not in the plan two weeks ago. The best thing to happen is for the property to be sold into the private sector and redeveloped into something that compliments the higher education center.
“If we buy this property we forestall that.”
Kingsport purchased the old Tire Center building at the corner of Clay and Market earlier this year for $165,000. The higher education center is proposed to be built on this site. Kingsport has also agreed to purchase the Model City Motors building for $156,000, which could be used as an expansion or extension of the RCAT.
Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote said Marsh and Shull’s comments “don’t hold water.”
“This board has committed to building a higher education center. With that we understood we were going to buy some real estate. We’ve known that from the beginning,” Mallicote said. “We’ve received the master plan that showed these buildings as part of the academic village and at no point was an objection raised.”
Shull said he does not accept Mallicote’s explanation of the events that have occurred regarding the academic village.
“This plan was a concept which was not deliberated and accepted as a good starting point,” Shull said. “It’s clearly beyond the scope of what we previously agreed to do.”
Marsh said the BMA vote to approve the purchase indicates a government structure that is out of control.
“This makes no sense except that this board is willing to spend money in any direction, on anything that is brought to us,” Marsh said.
Alderman Larry Munsey said the property is in the area where the city is planning the academic village.
“My opinion is its a fair price and it’s incumbent on us to buy it,” he said.
Mayor Dennis Phillips said the purchase is an investment that allows the city to control what goes on at that site.
Shull requested the BMA hold a retreat on this issue and others, such as Kingsport Landing and the Quebecor property, to further discuss the challenges facing the city. No formal action was taken on Shull’s request.
In addition to the Tri-City Linen property, the city is also looking at other properties in downtown Kingsport in connection with the academic village, including the Carriage House, Jim’s Lawn Center, A-Hood Bonding, Paul Adams and Associates Building and the Fire Fighters Association building.
Campbell said appraisals for these properties have come in at around $1.4 million.