KINGSPORT — A committee of local business leaders is expected to come before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen later this month with a prioritized list of potential projects aimed at improving the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center.
When Eastman Chemical Co. announced last month a $15 million expansion project for the center’s Marriott hotel, Mayor Dennis Phillips and Alderman Larry Munsey issued statements saying Kingsport should explore possible investments at the center to ensure its long-term success.
Phillips has reactivated the MeadowView Advisory Committee to examine the center’s operation, with an eye toward potential future investments. During a BMA work session Monday afternoon, Munsey said the committee is expected to come before the BMA at its budget workshop on Feb. 26 with a prioritized list of potential projects, including estimated costs.
“I think MeadowView has been successful beyond our greatest expectations, not only from the city of Kingsport’s perspective, but also from a regional standpoint,” Munsey said. “As great as MeadowView has been in the past, the potential is even greater for the future.”
Munsey said the center’s economic impact is more than $20 million annually, with the center helping spur $60 million in private investment in the MeadowView business district, including Dave Clark’s developments, the new Eastman Credit Union and Holston Medical Group complex.
Following Munsey’s presentation, the BMA appeared to be on board with exploring possible investments at MeadowView.
Alderwoman Valerie Joh reminded her fellow aldermen Kingsport is competing with Sevierville, which recently opened a new convention center twice the size of MeadowView.
“Anything we can do to keep us competitive is going to make a difference,” Joh said.
Phillips noted it would be a benefit to everyone if the city could do its improvements at the same time Eastman is doing its expansion, to keep the construction time to a minimum.
“We’d be making a serious mistake if we did not explore the possibility of what we need to do,” Phillips said. “The whole goal is when it’s all said and done to have more people coming here for conventions, staying in rooms and spending money.”
Andy King, general manager of MeadowView, said the committee’s report would include information on the number and types of events the center turns down due to lack of space.
As we have talked about this, we really have to get out there and see the types of venues there are, that will separate us from Sevierville, which has 108,000 square feet of meeting space,” King said. “With this expansion, we can go after different types of businesses, like board retreats.”
Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote noted the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau has told him that during AAU and USSSA events, some participants are staying in hotels in Bristol and Johnson City.
Eastman’s expansion would add two 55-room towers to the hotel, bringing the total number of rooms to 305. King said the Eastman expansion would help the center capture more convention business and help reduce the city’s subsidy to the center.
“If we ramp up to 70 percent occupancy, which is what we have now, within the next three to five years there wouldn’t have to be any kind of operating (subsidy),” King said. “If we continue to get that type of business.”
When Kingsport took on $25.7 million in debt to pay for the construction of the facility, city residents voted 2 to 1 by referendum in 1992 to increase the sales tax by a quarter cent and earmark the money — about $3.2 million annually — toward the debt and operating subsidy for the center and Cattails golf course.
The final payment on MeadowView was made in September 2007. Beginning in fiscal year 2009, approximately $2.1 million will be available to the city. The golf course will not be fully paid off until 2017.
“MeadowView has been a great success story that the public sponsored. I’m very much supportive,” said Alderman Ken Marsh.
MeadowView is a partnership between the city of Kingsport and Eastman Chemical Co. The city owns the convention center and adjoining Cattails golf course, while Eastman owns the hotel and restaurant. Marriott manages the property.
MeadowView has 35,000 square feet of convention center space and 30,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space. There have been no major renovations at the center since it opened in 1996. However, new carpeting, wallpaper and sound system equipment has been installed over the years.