Can the downtown plan work?

Hank Hayes • Jan 29, 2018 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – Millennials want to be there, but we don’t have that many right now.

That’s what a crowd of interested citizens were told Thursday night at the Kingsport Higher Education Center as they heard about a draft downtown Kingsport master plan that calls for three distinct districts and more than 700 additional dwelling units.

A “mill” (also called an “innovation”) district could be west of Broad Street with more residential units and restaurants. In that district is the planned 265-unit Town Park Lofts to be built on the old Supermarket Row site.

Broad Street could be an “arts and entertainment” district filled with restaurants and retail, and with dwelling units above commercial spaces.

A “warehouse” district could be east of Broad Street and hold more than 400 dwelling units.

The plan includes four downtown parks – at Town Park Lofts, at the Academic Village, at Five Points and in the “warehouse” district. It also has a hotel located at the Broad Street-Center Street intersection. It also lists the Region’s Bank property, which is being considered as the next City Hall, as a “civic/institutional” site.

“We’re really looking out the next 20 years to make Kingsport successful and beautify the city,” Adam Williamson, senior principal at Atlanta-based TSW Design, said of the plan. “The key is the city leveraging their dollars and spending them wisely to get people from the private sector to buy in … the city is important to getting things going.”

Kingsport’s downtown, according to Urban 3 Principal Joe Minicozzi, is actually as big as the downtown of Asheville, N.C. “When we look at buildings, we look like a farmer looks at crops,” Minicozzi told the gathering.

According to TSW Design, more than 500 people – with over 400 living in Kingsport – responded to a survey to get their input on what they wanted downtown. The number one response was fine dining and entertainment, day and night activities People want more recreational areas, theatre and the arts. The top transportation concern was parking. The firm asked people if they would be willing to move downtown. Sixty percent said ‘no,’ but 40 percent said ‘yes.’

Respondents also wanted older buildings overhauled to increase downtown’s attractiveness, plus more green spaces and a venue for events and community celebrations.

The parks, said Williamson, need to be more than simple green spaces.

“I think they need to be programmed wisely to attract people,” Williamson said of the green spaces. “I don’t think they can be just grass and trees. I think they need to have elements … whether it’s art or community gardens, space that’s well lit with benches and ping pong tables.”

Presentations at the meeting indicated millennials prefer to live downtown within walking distance of amenities.

Williamson again stressed that if City Hall is moved to the Region’s Bank building on Broad Street, the City Hall site could become office space. The U.S. Post Office building on Center Street, he added, could be converted into a brewery.

The hotel, TSW Design’s Laura Richter said, could be up to 120 rooms. “People love the idea of a hotel downtown, especially on Broad Street,” she said.

People attending the meeting were given play money – “10 downtown planning dollars” to weigh in on whether specific projects, like the renovation of the State Theater, should be fast tracked. They were also given red and green stickers to indicate what they liked and didn’t like about the plan. Each project also had a listed funding source, either public or private. The total price tag: $54.3 million, over a 10-plus year period.

“To borrow Trump’s slogan, we’re making Kingsport great again … it’s important to invest in downtown and create wealth, business incubators and creative space,” Williamson said. “We want a livable environment that residents can call home.”

A final concept of the plan is expected to be unveiled at the end of February.

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