'A river runs through it' could be what's next for Kingsport

Rick Wagner • Mar 4, 2018 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — What’s next for Kingsport? The head of local chamber says maybe a leisurely inner tube ride or a swifter kayak race down the Holston River.

With due apologies to Hollywood, a nutshell explanation from Kingsport Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Miles Burdine can be summed up in five words: A river runs through it.

The “it,” of course, is Kingsport. And Burdine said that the Reinventing the River or Rediscover the River project is one of the key themes that comes to his mind when asked what’s next for the chamber and city it serves.

Burdine in a kayak has gone down the Holston about 10 times, some with family, some with friends, and envisions the river venue becoming home to the longest whitewater competition in the United States. He said that will help draw younger folks to Kingsport. “They want outdoor activities,” Burdine said.

The river focus is one thing on the horizon for Kingpsort through the former OneKingpsort program, which is being rebranded the Kingsport Spirit. Another coming is the Downtown Playground, a proposed outdoor venue at the Brickyard Park that would include play and music performance areas.

Projects already underway, he said, include the Neighborhood Commissions for selected neighborhoods around town, the Bays Mountain Park improvement plan and the Invention Center for Kingsport, formerly Innovate Kingsport.


Redevelopment of Cement Hill, if Domtar donates to the city, is also on Burdine’s radar, with him saying it presents excellent opportunities for hiking and biking trails. A mid-2000s Leadership Kingsport Community Impact Program for Cement Hill is being talked about again, he said.

And in 2018, the Town Park Lofts on the former Supermarket Row property along West Sullivan Street is to be complete. The Blake at Kingsport, a retirement community on Fort Henry Drive, is to open in 2018, as is Creek Side Behavorial Health off Stone Drive near the John B. Dennis Bypass.

Visit Kingsport continues to work to bring meetings and sports event to the Model City, Burdine said, much as KOSBE, the Kingsport Office of Small Busienss Development and Entrepreneurship headed by Executive Director Aundrea Wilcox, works to help entrepreneurs. In addition, he said Fun Fest, Healthy Kingsport and Keep Kingsport Beautiful will continue their work.

Burdine also predicted that other parts of the state, and many other states, would continue modeling Kingsport chamber program and ideas such as Healthy Kingsport and government relations, the later of which includes regular meetings to keep up with legislative matters in Nashville.

Also on a regional matter, Burdine said the Aerospace Park development at Tri-Cities Airport would dovetail nicely with a Northeast State Community College effort that would allowing the Northeast campus adjoining the airport to expand onto airport property for flying and drone programs.

In addition, Feagins said the chamber goes out of its way to support the area art community, and Burdine said looking “for opportunities we may not know about” now as technology changes will be explored. He also said some old-school things still work, citing the presence of a large chain book store in town and an independent book store in the Fort Henry Mall when some a decade ago or more decried printed books as going out of style.

The chamber’s headquarters is in part of the old Kingsport Press building, once a huge book printer that was the world’s largest Bible printer..


Burdine said that he also sees continued progress with the STREAMWORKS Powered by Eastman program, which works with robotics and other programs to get STEM, science, technology, engineering and math, to students on a hands-on basis. The program headed by Dennis Courtney strives to “develop our work force of the future” to fill a seemingly endless need for qualified workers. He said Eastman Chemical Co., Domtar paper mill and the newly formed Ballad Health, a merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance, need qualified workers.

And he said a conservative estimate is that each new city resident has a $25,000 impact on the city’s economy.

That program also dovetails with Visit Kingsport efforts by bringing things like an underwater robotics competition to Kingsport in May, which brings out-of-town visitor to town in addition to pushing STEM. 

He also said the Kingsport City Schools Regional Science and Techology Center Sullivan County’s new Sullivan East Middle School, both to open in 2019, and as-yet unamed high school near the airport to open in 2020 were projects the chamber supported by supporting a countywide bond issue as a funding method.


“Since we’re always seeking volunteers, we try to be volunteers,” Burdine said. For instance, Wilcox is chairwoman of the Holston Valley Medical Center board.  Judd Teague of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bob Feagins, executive director of communications and development, and Lindsay Powers, membership and events manager, also have volunteer and community roles outside the chamber.  Powers is next year’s head of the PEAK - Kingsport Young Professionals organization.

Other things in the city’s and chamber’s future include promoting the Tri-Cities Crossing at the intersection of Interstates 26 and 81, supporting owner and developer Stewart Taylor, and working with the NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership on Kingsport and regional economic development.

Powers said that also she doesn’t like the term milleninials, young adults often shy away from large chains and cookie cutter business; that’s why she said downtown’s small businesses attract them, she said.

“There’s just something appealing about going to a local restaurant,” she said.

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