KINGSPORT — East Tennessee State University officials are exploring the possibility of having a higher education facility in downtown Kingsport, ETSU President Dr. Paul Stanton said last week.
Earlier this month, the city of Kingsport broke ground on its new $12.9 million Kingsport Center for Higher Education — a 54,000-square-foot facility where students will be able to earn a four-year degree from a consortium of colleges and universities, such as the University of Tennessee, King College, Lincoln Memorial University, Carson-Newman and Tusculum.
Three years ago when the higher education center in downtown Kingsport was gaining momentum, the idea of selling ETSU’s University Center in the Allandale community and using the proceeds to fund the construction of a facility was pitched. However, ETSU chose not to be involved at the time, and the city went about funding the construction on its own.
A rumor has been floating around the Model City for the past four or five months that ETSU has bought or is looking to buy the Paul Bellamy Furniture building in downtown Kingsport and use it as a higher education center.
Stanton said he doesn’t even know Paul Bellamy.
“That’s not a good rumor because I don’t even know who that is. If anybody’s had conversations it hasn’t been from the university because we’re not anywhere close to that juncture,” Stanton said.
Bellamy, who owns two buildings at the intersection of Broad and East Center Street, said he too has heard the rumor and that there is nothing to it.
“They have not come and talked to me or made an offer yet,” Bellamy said, adding that he has two individuals who want to buy both downtown buildings.
City Manager John Campbell said he has spoken with one individual who had a verbal agreement with Bellamy on one of the buildings, but the person is not buying it for ETSU.
Bert Bach, vice president of academic affairs at ETSU, said the university has had no conversations with anyone relative to buying a building in downtown Kingsport.
However, Campbell and Stanton both said they have talked to each other about the issue.
“We are exploring the possibility to see if sometime down the road we might want a downtown location,” Stanton said, adding the university is not being pressed to move at this time. “Everyone on the advisory council for the Allandale (facility) are satisfied with where we are and our programs out there.”
Stanton said he has asked Bach to conduct a square footage study to see just how much space ETSU would need in a downtown Kingsport facility.
“We have an 86,000-square-foot facility at Allandale, and we heard the city was looking at a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot facility, which for us would be very difficult to have enough space. And if you added other institutions, it just seemed untenable,” Stanton said. “(Bach) indicates anything less than 75,000 square foot for us alone would be too small.”
Stanton said the next step would be to take Bach’s study and put a price tag on the Allandale site and compare that to any potential downtown site. Before ETSU purchases property for a higher education center in Kingsport, Stanton said they would have to meet with the advisory council for the Allandale facility, sell the Allandale site and get approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents.
“The state doesn’t allow us to buy property. We have to have the money in hand first,” he said. “I would hope the city would want us down there enough that they could provide property (to ETSU).”
Stanton said ETSU is pleased with the Allandale facility and is not anxious to move. However, if a move were to take place, Stanton said he would like the process to begin under his watch. Stanton is slated to retire next March.
“If we’re going to go in the direction of eventually moving downtown, I would like to get that started on my watch, which will end March 1,” Stanton said, noting Bach’s study should be completed within the next few months. “There will be no answer until we work through this process and come to some feeling if this is the right thing to do.”