KINGSPORT — A citizens advisory committee is recommending the Meadowview area of town be the site for Kingsport’s new aquatic center.
The 12-member committee, appointed by Mayor Dennis Phillips last month to look at the three potential sites, held their final meeting Monday morning and came before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday afternoon with the recommendation. The committee voted 11 to 1 for the Meadowview area.
The BMA, however, did not endorse the site, officially or unofficially, Monday evening and agreed to further discuss the aquatic center, the proposed site and co-locating with the YMCA at another work session in the coming weeks.
The BMA has been considering building an aquatic center somewhere within the city for more than 18 months. The idea thus far is to build a $12.6 million indoor/outdoor facility, co-locate it with the new YMCA, and have YMCA officials operate the facility.
City staff have twice recommended the facility be built in the Meadowview area of town, possibly along Wilcox Drive, on a 10-acre site in order to accommodate both facilities. However, since three aldermen were not sold on the site, Phillips appointed the committee to investigate and study the top three sites and return with a recommendation.
The three sites being considered are Legion Pool, grocery store row (Sullivan and Clinchfield) and the Meadowview area (between the driving range and Cattails golf course).
During the BMA work session Monday afternoon, city leaders asked committee members some questions and discussed the next step in the process.
“A vote on where to put the aquatic center should come sooner rather than later,” said Alderwoman Valerie Joh, who has been outspoken on the need to build the aquatic center in a timely fashion.
The Meadowview site generated many positives and the fewest negatives from committee members. The pros being lowest cost of the three sites, the site being most adaptable, it could be done in the quickest amount of time, and it is an area of growth for Kingsport. Eastman Chemical Co. has also agreed to donate 12 acres of land in this area for the facility, with an additional two- to five-acre donation being a possibility.
Committee members found the downside to Meadowview being $1.1 million in wetlands remediation and a lack of pedestrian access.
In light of the remediation work, Phillips asked about the realistic expectation of when the city could “put a shovel in the ground” on the Meadowview site.
City Manager John Campbell said the city would have to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in this regard, and would take six to seven months to go through the process.
As for a lack of pedestrian access, Terry Cunningham (executive director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority) said some ideas include having the aquatic center be on the Kingsport Area Transit System’s bus route and for the pool pass to include free access to KATS as well.
Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, said there has also been talk and plans in the past of extending bike lanes and the Greenbelt to the Meadowview area, specifically from Domtar Park.
Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote, who has argued for the aquatic center to be located downtown, said the cost of these improvements should have been included in the final cost estimate for the three proposed sites.
“If those are things we need to do to make this site feasible, I think those ought to be included in the comparable costs,” Mallicote said. “I don’t think it accurately reflects the cost of the project.”
City officials said city buses or vans bring in 35 percent to 40 percent of the Legion Pool traffic today, but Campbell said the city could try to make an estimate on the Greenbelt costs.
Alderman Pat Shull asked about seniors getting to the new aquatic center.
McCartt said the Senior Center buses seniors to Dobyns-Bennett High School’s pool now and would continue to do so in the future.
Alderman Ken Marsh said when you put the YMCA and the aquatic center together, it changes the entire dynamic of the proposal completely.
“The real issue is are we doing it for the citizens of Kingsport or for the region,” Marsh said.
Alderman Larry Munsey suggested the BMA have several meetings about the aquatic center, including cost, co-locating and reviewing the several studies compiled about the facility. The other BMA members agreed.
Phillips said the last thing Kingsport needs to do is drag the YMCA out.
“It does make more sense to have one pool versus us having one and the YMCA having one,” Phillips said, noting the project merits more discussion. Marsh said the BMA has a co-location issue and a site issue to deal with.
“You have to deal with co-location before you deal with the site,” Marsh said, noting the unanimous view of the BMA to build an indoor/outdoor facility. “That’s settled among us.”
Phillips’ citizens committee met five times, visited all three sites, and received several reports about the locations — engineering, demographics and traffic — all of which recommended the Meadowview site.
Deputy City Manager Jeff Fleming crafted — at the committee’s request — a demographics report on all three sites and found the Meadowview site would be the closest to a majority of people living in the greater Kingsport area.
Hodge Associates, an architectural and engineering firm from Morristown, recently conducted a site analysis of all three sites and issued a report with preliminary cost estimates that reflect property acquisition, structure demolition, site remediation, site work, traffic needs and landscaping.
According to the Hodge report, the grocery row site would cost $7 million in site work, Legion Pool would cost nearly $5 million, while Meadowview would cost $3.7 million. These costs do not include construction costs.
Committee members said grocery store row has traffic and aesthetic issues and would require nearly $3 million in land acquisition costs, with eight existing businesses and one church having to be relocated.
The Legion Pool site suffers from expansive shale underneath its structure, which could be the main reason why the pool loses more than 30,000 gallons of water a day when in operation.
Don Schumacher, president of Sports Marketing Management and Consulting, has been retained by the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau to conduct a review of sports facilities in Kingsport, including the potential for a new aquatic center.
According to a preliminary report, Schumacher came to town in June for three days and reviewed seven possible sites for an aquatic center and found the only one with a suitable location and sufficient space is the Meadowview site.