KINGSPORT — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen may reverse course tonight and authorize $11,700 to help accommodate arts classes being offered in downtown Kingsport by East Tennessee State University.
For the past three weeks, ETSU has been offering two arts courses in downtown Kingsport — 2-D Design and Bluegrass — one in the Downtown Kingsport Association building and the other in an adjacent building owned by B.C. Realty.
Earlier this month, City Manager John Campbell and Alderman Larry Munsey recommended the city allocate $50,600 to the DKA to cover rent at the B.C. Realty building, the installation of a double-basin laundry sink and a dance floor in the Kingsport Ballet building.
However, city leaders balked at the idea and suggested if any improvements were made for the courses, they should be made in city-owned buildings. In response, city staff and DKA officials met Friday to discuss the next step to take.
On Monday, Campbell returned with a second proposal for city funding — $7,000 for rent, $3,750 for the sink and $1,002 for the purchase of audio/visual cabinetry for a grand total of $11,752.
According to Campbell, this amount would accommodate the classes in their present location until the end of the fall semester. During this time, Campbell wrote in his proposal, ETSU would be making decisions regarding the spring 2008 semester while the city would prepare city-owned property for classroom space.
Some possibilities include the Model City Motors building and Tri-City Linen and Uniform Company facility — two property purchases recently approved by the BMA. City staff also plan to investigate what city-owned properties could accommodate the dance floor.
“Clearly ETSU has the strongest arts program east of Knoxville. I think we feel it’s important to present Kingsport’s proposal for this, what we think is a very reasonable facilitation to help this process,” Campbell said.
Mark Freeman, president elect of the DKA, spearheaded the proposal to bring arts courses to downtown Kingsport. Freeman said he had a good feeling about the latest proposal.
“I think it’s positive. It gets us past the fall semester and gives us some time. That’s the key thing,” Freeman said. “It gives us time to address the next step and for the city to get more involved. I hope the city can find some space ... for the next semester.”
Following the presentation, most BMA members appeared to be supportive of the funding request.
Mayor Dennis Phillips said it is worth something to have the courses downtown and not disrupt the fall semester.
“I’m willing to swallow a little bit, and this is the right thing to do to keep from disrupting the classes,” Phillips said.
Alderman Pat Shull spoke against the allocation and offered an alternative proposal. Shull said during the city’s budget process earlier this year the BMA agreed to fund the DKA $20,000 for the first six months of the fiscal year and then another $20,000 in January.
“Let’s give them the second $20,000 now and let them figure this out,” Shull said.
However, Alderman Larry Munsey pointed out that a committee is exploring whether the DKA could be merged with the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce. The BMA agreed earlier this year to wait on this report before deciding whether to give the DKA the additional $20,000.
“It is my recommendation we go ahead and give them the money now,” Munsey said.
Shull, who is also a member of the DKA, called the funding “a giveaway to ETSU.”
“It sets a bad precedent. We can’t give away money to every cause, and they grow instead of dying away,” Shull said. “If the (DKA) takes the $40,000 staff recommended and use it to promote downtown, I’d be willing to do that. We’re flat giving money to ETSU, which is a competitor to city and private programs.”
Phillips said this is a situation the city has been put in the middle of, with no easy way out.
“I hope it doesn’t happen again,” Phillips said. “We all want to be supportive of anything to promote downtown. We got (the funding request) from $50,000 to $11,000, and this will give them room to breathe.”
Campbell reminded the BMA the colleges coming to the higher education center would not be charged full market rent.
“They’re coming at a discount,” he said.
The BMA will vote on the request during its regular meeting tonight.