The air got a little heated on the third floor of the Kingsport Grocery Co. Wednesday night.
And it didn’t stem from an air conditioning malfunction.
Merchants and downtown property owners gathered in a called meeting to hear about a new stage being brought in for this year’s Twilight Alive Summer Concert Series, and how the stage could impact businesses on Thursday afternoons.
About half of the merchants said they were members of Downtown Kingsport Association; half said they belonged to the new Downtown Business Alliance of Kingsport; and some said they were members of both organizations.
Miles Burdine, chief executive officer of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, was on hand at the meeting. He explained that the city contracts with the chamber to hold the concerts, and the chamber contracts with various organizations for different purposes.
Broad Street Productions is contracted to book the entertainment, and secure a stage, sound, lights, etc.
Broad Street Productions is operated by Doug Beatty, Jeff Lane and Kanishka Biddanda. In years past, they’ve contracted with the Downtown Kingsport Association for use of the DKA Foundation stage.
This year, however, Broad Street Productions opted to contract for a larger stage out of Asheville.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Kanishka told the group that because of the larger stage, organizers would have to institute a “rolling closure” of Broad Street beginning at 1 p.m. He said five parking spaces would be blocked off each hour, up to total closure by late afternoon.
Broad Street merchants weren’t happy with the idea.
“It’s inconveniencing us,” said Carol Gentry with Nooks & Crannies.
Haggle Shop owner Joyce Grills agreed. “I’ve been in business 45 years, most of it downtown. And street closings have always been bad for merchants,” Grills said. “If that has to be, you need to move. It just isn’t a fair thing for us.”
Some merchants said the concerts have worked well in the past with the DKA stage, which could be left on Broad Street throughout the summer months. The newly contracted stage must be set up each week and taken down each week — creating more congestion on the streets.
Pat Houchens, a member of DKA and owner of P&J Antiques, said she didn’t understand why the concert series needed the larger stage. She said DKA brought in Artimus Pyle, formerly of Lynyrd Skynyrd, for its Fourth of July concert in 2006. She said Pyle drew people from across the eastern part of the country, and the DKA stage “didn’t seem to be an issue.”
But Beatty said a larger — and permanent stage — will be needed if Kingsport hopes to grow the concert series.
Beatty suggested creating a permanent venue on Main Street on the chamber grounds, where Racks by the Tracks was recently held. He said such a location would benefit all downtown businesses because visitors would park throughout the downtown district, and they could shop in stores and eat in restaurants on their way to and from concerts.
But one business owner suggested Beatty was simply trying to get a permanent venue built near his restaurants — Bone Fire, the Bus Pit and the Kingsport Grocery.
“All you want to do is get a bigger stage and move the concerts down to where your restaurants are,” said Patty Lawrence.
“The only thing I have advocated for is a permanent venue,” Beatty shot back. “Is Broad Street that place? I don’t think so. We like the chamber lot because there’s already a plan to turn that area into a park.”
Beatty said every business will benefit from a permanent location. “It’s not about putting it in front of anybody’s business,” he said.
Steve Hooper, pastor of Restoration Church on Broad Street, said the concerts restrict activities at his church on Thursdays.
“We’ve been on Broad Street a long time. And we feel disenfranchised by the whole thing,” he said.
Burdine asked the merchants if they think the concert venue should be moved from the intersection of Broad and Market Street to another location because of the parking issues.
Alderman Ben Mallicote said he’s hesitant to move the concert, preferring it on Broad Street — “in the center of the business district.”
“Broad Street means a lot to this community — that is a strong part of the appeal of having it there,” Mallicote said.
Houchens said she’s a “huge proponent” of the concert series and would hate to see the event moved from Broad Street.
DBA member John Vachon, with downtown development group Urban Synergy, said he’s not in favor of moving the concerts to Main Street. He said the current location is the “epicenter” of the downtown district.
Vachon said he agrees with getting the larger stage for larger acts that help draw more people to the downtown. He said he advocates for a permanent stage at Broad and Market Street.
“It’s always been our philosophy to grow from the core,” Vachon said.
“Everybody needs to come together. We don’t need to bicker,” he added.
DKA member Bill Testerman suggested that Broad Street Productions and the chamber revisit the stage contract and give DKA another look.
Mallicote suggested that DKA present its “bottom price” for use of the stage. Although Broad Street Productions has already contracted for the larger stage, Mallicote, an attorney, said contracts can always be broken.
At Burdine’s suggestion, downtown merchants are expected to meet again this week to continue discussion of the issues.
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