KINGSPORT — Transportation improvements are necessary to accommodate Eastman Chemical Co.’s $1.6 billion reinvestment project, including the construction of a pedestrian bridge over Wilcox Drive.
Earlier this year, Eastman announced “Project Inspire” — a $1.6 billion reinvestment plan focusing on safety and environmental projects, warehouse capacity, building renovations and a new office building built on the site of the existing company ball fields.
The announcement indicated Eastman is committed to be headquartered in Kingsport for years to come.
Last week, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a resolution initiating the formal process of participating with the State Industrial Access Program with the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
The program offers financial assistance to cities and counties for industrial or economic development projects, to expedite transportation improvements, if certain criteria are met. Kingsport previously used the program during the development of the industrial park at the Tri-Cities Crossing area of town, where the FedEx facility is currently located.
According to Assistant City Manager Jeff Fleming, the program will fully fund some road access improvements to the new office building property, including a new pedestrian bridge over Wilcox Drive.
Preliminary plans show the existing entrances to Eastman Credit Union will be relocated; one new access point will be opposite Sullivan Street, thus making that intersection fully signalized with better access to downtown. The new office building will have two access points along Wilcox Drive — one near ECU and the other in one of two locations, either at Industry Drive or opposite the entrance near the Toy F. Reid Employee Center.
“You’re taking what is now recreational fields and replacing it with a sizable office building that will have roughly 900 to 1,000 parking spaces,” Fleming said. “We need to make sure all of the traffic management is planned for.”
In addition to the access improvement, a pedestrian bridge is slated to span Wilcox Drive, accessible to the public and including elevators on both sides. It will be located roughly halfway between Lincoln Street and Industry Drive.
“It’ll be a lengthy transition so you can cross Wilcox at a height of 24 feet and then enter the office building on the other side,” Fleming said. “The idea is to make the campus inviting, pedestrian-friendly and accommodate the additional vehicles that are going to be associated with the redevelopment.”
Eastman is working on a 24-month time frame on when the new office building will be complete. The estimated cost of the roadway improvements and pedestrian bridge is not known at this time, but the project will be fully funded by TDOT, Fleming said.
“TDOT has met with Eastman and city officials and the attention we’ve gotten from TDOT has been fantastic,” Fleming said. “It’s exactly the kind of attention you want a global company like Eastman to receive, that we appreciate their investment here.”
Eastman estimates Project Inspire will add 300 new jobs locally through the construction of the new office building. According to documents filed with the TDOT, Eastman estimates 100 of the new jobs will be business support positions with an average salary of $50,000 to $60,000 while the remaining 200 jobs will be professional positions with an average salary of $80,000 to $110,000.
Eastman also estimates 200 contract jobs will be necessary during the construction of the new building.
As for the modernization phase of Project Inspire, the company estimates 800 to 1,000 contract jobs will be necessary, though no new jobs at Eastman will be created. The company estimates 200 positions will be filled to replace retiring employees. These positions will be in manufacturing operations and have an annual salary of $40,000 to $50,000.