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Vision 2017: Kingsport working to become 'community of excellence and opportunity'

January 3rd, 2012 11:56 am by Staff Report

Kingsport will celebrate its 100th birthday in five short years.

In the fall of 1989 and spring of 1990, all citizens were invited to help determine the city’s future through a community-wide visioning process called Vision 2017.

The Kingsport, Tenn., of the 1980s was much different from the community you see today. During this time period, it was not uncommon for citizens to show up at Board of Mayor and Aldermen meetings to voice their complaints and frustrations. Residents constantly turned down referendums that would provide city improvements, such as the widening of Eastman Road, a new Justice Center and a downtown Performing Arts Center.

A Leadership Kingsport case study project called attention to the continuous negativity that encompassed the community. The Leadership Kingsport team did some research and learned that many communities around the country were holding a "visioning process," in which all citizens were invited to participate in shaping their community’s future. In addition, the Leadership Kingsport case study team invited regional leaders to participate in a forum, where they were asked to share their views about Kingsport. The regional leaders stated, in their opinions, that Kingsport was seen as "stodgy, unwilling to change and not progressive." With this information, the Leadership Kingsport case study team suggested a community-wide visioning process.

"This was the genesis of what became known as Vision 2017," explained former Kingsport Mayor Jeanette Blazier. A steering team was selected and a formal organization, called Kingsport Tomorrow, was put in place to begin the visioning process. A New York consultant, Gianni Longo, was hired to train facilitators and establish the venue for the visioning process. Longo had been highly recommended for the work he did with Chattanooga Venture, which led to the town’s River Walk and Aquarium.

Eighty citizens, including Blazier, were trained as facilitators to lead the community-wide forums, which were held in neutral locations throughout Kingsport. Meetings were held in the fall of 1989 and all followed the same structure, in which "every idea" counted and no idea was thrown out. At the end of the meetings, the group consolidated and prioritized ideas with the top five reported back to Kingsport Tomorrow. At the end of the visioning process, Kingsport had 27 goals on which to focus from 1990 to 2017, the city’s 100th birthday. Blazier was hired as director of Kingsport Tomorrow and charged with nurturing the Vision.

The largest "bricks and mortar" project resulting from the Vision 2017 effort was the Marriott MeadowView Conference, Resort and Convention Center.

For Blazier, one of the best outcomes was a change in attitude with the citizens.

"When we started this process, you have to remember many of our citizens were in this ‘no’ mood," Blazier said. "What we described to them was an open, inclusive, participatory method to determine our city’s future. It was consensus building at its best."

Many of Kingsport’s naysayers were turned into cheerleaders and, for the first time, many citizens stated they finally felt their voice had been heard.

Additional improvements to Kingsport, as a result of Vision 2017, include a public transport system, graduated housing options for seniors, a vibrant downtown, a full-service YMCA and additional childcare options.

When Blazier became mayor in 1998, Kingsport was once again faced with a crisis - a mass exodus of its young people. In January of 1999, the city, along with the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce, held an Economic Summit in which the city’s Vision was once again fine-tuned. Using the same modified nominal group process as Vision 2017, an additional set of goals was established, some of which further defined the original 27 Vision 2017 goals and some of which were new.

As a result, Kingsport now has a downtown Academic Village, the Scott Adams Memorial Skatepark, new baseball and soccer fields and vastly improved shopping opportunities.

While many of the Vision 2017 goals have been realized, Blazier said, it is important to continue the Vision and celebrate the city’s achievements.

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