KINGSPORT — The iconic J. Fred Johnson Stadium would get a $3.5 million separate upper deck structure with almost 1,800 seats under the proposal of a special committee that reported to the Kingsport Board of Education during a work session Thursday night.
The Dobyns-Bennett High School football grandstand addition concept — including a two-story press box, elevator and retrofitted handrails for the existing 3,600-seat grandstand — is to go before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its work session Monday.
The BOE gave its informal support for the BMA presentation, although BOE members will be in Nashville Monday and Tuesday for the Tennessee School Boards Association’s Day on the Hill.
The project is proposed to be done as a design-build project by Louisville, Ky.-based Dant Clayton in time for football games this fall.
It would be paid for by PSLs — paid seating licenses — of $100 or $200 each a year on the new seats, plus premium PSL payments for 48 seats created in the old grandstand when the old press box is removed. Those, officials said, might be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
PSLs are paid in addition to regular ticket prices.
“The people that would utilize the stadium would be the people paying,” said committee Chairman Todd East, an attorney.
“In church, where it gets crowded people stop going,” BOE member Cheryl Harvey said of pent-up demand for season tickets. “I think a lot of people who don’t come will come if we have space.”
However, the BMA would agree to be responsible for the funding if the PSLs didn’t generate an estimated $259,000 a year in revenue needed to retire 20-year bonds for $3.4 million to 3.5 million.
Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, said city officials have been working with Dant Clayton on the idea.
McCartt said the project — if it moves forward — likely would be handled through the Kingsport Economic Development Board, which recently did the funding for the new parking garage downtown.
“Our comfort level has been in KEDB,” McCartt told the BOE.
BOE member Carrie Upshaw suggested letting the general public purchase unsold PSL seats on a game-by-game basis to raise additional money.
“This looks like just an amazing project,” Upshaw said. “As a D-B football fan and a band parent, this is very exciting.”
However, Upshaw said as a board member she wants more input from students and assurances the project wouldn’t hinder funding for education.
The committee — including businessman Pal Barger, Chamber of Commerce head Miles Burdine, Fun Fest Director Lucy Fleming and retired D-B Principal Earl Lovelace — was charged with looking at the stadium needs, which were part of the needs addressed in a 16-page study by the Strategic Consulting Services Division of the National Association of Sports Commissions. Don Schumacher, executive director of the NASC, presented that study to the BOE on Dec. 1.
“It has reached the end of its useful life,” Schumacher told the BOE of the stadium.
East and committee member Danny Karst said they agreed with everything in the Shumacher report concerning the stadium except the recommendation to raze the grandstand completed in 1942 after a fund-raising campaign headed by city founding father and businessman J. Fred Johnson.
They said a demolition and new stadium, estimated to cost $7 million to $10 million, probably couldn’t be financed by city capital bonds until 2018.
The Shumacher study’s stadium recommendation was part of a broader look at outdoor projects at D-B, including needs for expanded tennis courts and other sports and outdoor facilities on and near the D-B campus.
A link to the 16-page Shumacher report is available at the school system’s Web site, www.k12k.com/.
To avoid having to upgrade the grandstand to modern codes, which East said would require about 75 restrooms instead of the current seven, the plan is to put 24 new restrooms in the addition or maybe shift some to the lower level. East added he is confident most of the PSLs would be sold.
BOE member Susan Lodal said she was concerned the proposal didn’t do enough for the restrooms in the original grandstand.
“I do have concerns that this has come up so quickly,” Lodal said. “We have not really had time to thoroughly understand.”
Upshaw said she knew nothing of city staff involvement in the project “until this past Friday.”
However, BOE member Betsy Cooper said the committee shared information when asked, although none of the group’s meetings were advertised or public.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to overthink. We had to work hard,” Karst said.
Dant Clayton officials are familiar with the facility because they installed visitor stands at the stadium a few years ago and “they’ve been looking at this for several years,” East said.
Bill Block, regional manager for Dant Clayton, and Brian DeHart, sales engineer for the company, said their company has done recent stadium projects that include the Farragut High School stadium in Knoxville and the Virginia Tech stadium in Blacksburg.
Lodal also questioned having no plans for additional parking. Harvey said fans could park at the Kingsport Town Center mall or on parking areas the school system may develop along Park Street next to Indian Highland Park. In addition, Karst said there is room for about 50 spaces on campus, although Lodal said that was set aside from a band storage building.
BOE Chairman Randy Montgomery asked about lighting. The committee proposal doesn’t address that, but East said putting in more efficient lighting would save money over time.
Montgomery also said the BMA must be willing to be the default funding source. He and Upshaw said the BOE doesn’t want to take away funding from other areas, with Montgomery saying athletics as a whole is about 99 percent self-supporting.
“You’re counting on projected revenue to pay for these things,” said Montgomery, who said he has discussed the proposal with Mayor Dennis Phillips and City Manager John Campbell.