KINGSPORT — Kingsport’s aquatic center will have a lazy river.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen gave an “unofficial” nod of approval to add a lazy river feature back into the aquatic center project during a work session Monday afternoon. The official action to approve the $1.3 million feature will be taken during the BMA’s regular meeting tonight.
Last month, city officials proposed adding the lazy river back into the project, but the item was pulled from a bond issuance because the funding sources for the feature had not been secured.
That is no longer the case.
On Friday, Eastman Credit Union announced it would be donating $300,000 to help cover the cost of the lazy river and to support a Learn-to-Swim program. On Monday, the Visitor Enhancement Program advisory board announced it would provide $100,000 a year for 10 years to cover the remaining cost.
Established by the BMA in 2007, the VEP is a fund used for tourism-related projects within the city, such as the wayfinding signs and planetarium renovation. The VEP uses 2 percent of the 7 percent hotel/motel tax as its funding source.
“There is a tremendous value to making (the aquatic center) a tourist attraction. It’s a worthwhile project and will be a great benefit to the city and the folks who come to visit Kingsport,” said Andy King, chairman of the VEP advisory board and executive director of the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center. “We struggled a lot to see if this would fit into our budget, and we believe we’re not tying ourselves down for the next 10 years with this project.”
King said the VEP would have enough money held back in case another project comes up.
MeadowView alone generates $155,000 for the VEP.
The original plan for the aquatic center called for a lazy river, but the feature was removed from the final plan due to its cost. If a lazy river were to be added to the facility at a later date, the cost would be $250,000 to $350,000 more than current estimates.
“This is one of the things from day one everyone associated with the project felt like was a primary drawing card,” said Mayor Dennis Phillips.
Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, gave a brief presentation on the lazy river, details of the feature and the benefits of adding it to the project.
The lazy river is essentially a slow-moving river, 10 feet wide, 3.5 feet deep, and approximately 700 feet in length, located on the outskirts of the aquatic center. People can walk, float or use an inflatable raft to move around the river.
McCartt said the lazy river could be enjoyed by the entire family, people of all ages and abilities can use the feature, and it provides greater diversity for the facility. In addition, the lazy river increases the capacity of the outdoor park from 389 to 682 and is the least costly outdoor feature to operate.
“It leaves ample room for future features at the facility and is designed to make sure it’ll not interfere with other additions we bring on,” McCartt said. “This really separates us from any competition we would have.”
The $1.3 million is expected to cover the architectural work, construction and purchase of rafts for the lazy river.
McCartt said the lazy river would be built concurrently with the rest of the facility and would open next spring at the same time as the remainder of the outdoor component. Kingsport is estimating the indoor facility being completed in the winter of 2013, with the outdoor facility being complete in the summer of 2013.
The lazy river marks the third feature added back to the aquatic center project this year. An enhanced gatehouse/bathhouse and a second water slide — at a cost of $231,415 — were added back to the project in April after city officials announced good site conditions have resulted in that amount of savings.