KINGSPORT — If all goes according to plan — and by all indications it appears to be — a new development at the old Stonegate Plaza shopping center will soon be underway.
The project is planned for the old Walmart location on Stone Drive — a 14-acre piece of land that has sat empty and been a blight for the past 18 years. The city deemed it a redevelopment zone 20 years ago, thus opening it up for incentives, but for nearly two decades nothing has happened on the property.
Developer Danny Karst and his wife, Carla, and Kingsport attorney Todd East have been working since April to create an $18 million residential development on the Stonegate site. Called West Gate, the development will include 76 single-family houses and 16 townhomes.
The townhomes will be in the $160,000 price range and be approximately 1,500 square feet with a one-car garage. Most of the single-family houses will range from $215,000 to $225,000 and be roughly 1,750 to 2,600 square feet.
“Todd and I and Carla looked at this about three years ago, and even then we considered what (tax increment financing) might be. ... Every scenario we tried we just couldn’t make it work,” said Danny Karst. “Then, this one Saturday in April I came up here and looked at it and said why don’t we go back one more time and see if there’s a way to make it work?”
How the three developers were able to make the project work is through tax increment financing, or TIF for short.
SOME EXTRAORDINARY EXPENSES
The way TIF works is the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority takes the projected growth in property taxes on a project and uses that money to secure a loan. That loan is then granted to the property owner, with the proceeds helping offset the cost of the project.
Housing authorities are authorized to use TIF only within a redevelopment area to remove, prevent or reduce blight, and the money secured is often used for demolition or infrastructure improvements. In Kingsport, TIF has previously been used to help with the new Food City shopping center on Eastman Road and East Stone Commons on the site of the old Kingsport Mall.
With the West Gate project, the developers are seeking $1.2 million in TIF to be repaid within 15 years.
The reason for seeking TIF is because there are some extraordinary expenses associated with the project, Danny Karst said. These include an 8-foot-tall fence around the property (because of the proximity to Highway 11-W and Interstate 26), installing sidewalks outside the development and doing roadway improvements where the entrance/exit connects to Clinton Street.
Other proposed improvements to the property include the removal of existing asphalt, grading, installation of stormwater and utilities, construction of roads, landscaping, lighting and other related amenities.
APPROVING THE INCENTIVE
The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently rezoned the property to accommodate the development and heard a presentation from the KHRA on how TIF works and would apply to this particular development.
Last week, the Sullivan County Commission also heard a presentation on the project and was expected to vote on the TIF matter on first reading Thursday evening. However, Commissioner Hunter Locke, the sponsor of the TIF measure, waived the two-reading rule on Thursday and took the matter to the floor.
That meant a supermajority of the commission needed to vote “yes” to approve the measure on one reading. It was approved 21-1 with two members absent.
“I originally had it on first reading and we wouldn’t have taken a vote, but with further discussion I knew we had the votes,” Locke said. “So I waived the rules and took the vote (Thursday night) and got it passed. I felt it wasn’t necessary to keep it on the agenda for the same outcome next month.”
Commissioner Dwight King cast the lone “no” vote against the TIF measure.
“We’re getting so much TIF money out that it’s taken a big chunk out of our budget. The shape we’re in with schools and now a jail, I just feel like it’s time to cut this stuff out. We can’t afford it,” King said.
According to information provided to the city and county, neither Kingsport nor Sullivan County is responsible for the loan and will continue to receive property taxes from the development. A portion of the new taxes generated is dedicated to help pay off the loan, and ultimately the developer is responsible for any shortfall in revenues.
WHERE THE PROJECT STANDS
The Kingsport BMA is expected to consider the TIF measure at its next meeting in December. If it’s approved, Danny Karst said work on the West Gate development could start as early as the first week in January.
It would be a three-phase project that Karst hopes could be finished in approximately 30 months.
“There is a (housing) need and (the project) needs a little extra push to drive it to a safe harbor,” Karst said. “You have to believe one thing when you’re developing: that some (people) are packing their bags and are on their way ... that they’re coming to meet you. You have to believe that to a certain amount to try and develop any property, that customers and residents are on their way to meet us.”
The Karsts have been involved in projects in the Model City since roughly 2006 with the development of the Edinburgh neighborhood in Rock Springs. Other projects on their resume include Riverwatch on Netherland Inn Road, Gibson Springs off Rock Springs Road and the development in Allandale that includes an Eastman Credit Union and Weigel’s gas station.
Northeast Tennessee’s daily COVID-19 case level remained below 300 for a second day Saturday as Tennessee saw daily cases climb over the 4,000 mark.
Three new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the region, bringing the region’s total to 383. One death each was reported in Washington, Johnson and Unicoi counties.
According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s COVID-19 website (https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html), nine new deaths and 4,355 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 4,211 deaths (3,880 confirmed as COVID-19 and 331 probable) and 335,887 cases (310,739 confirmed as COVID-19 and 25,148 probable). Of the total statewide cases 291,819 (87%) were listed as “inactive/recovered.”
The new case numbers included 28,004 new test results statewide, since the day before, with a positive rate of 14.76% — a 0.55 percentage point increase from Friday.
Ballad Health’s daily COVID-19 scorecard (www.balladhealth.org/medical-services/infectious-disease) reported a seven-day test positivity rate of 18.5% for the system’s 21-county coverage area.
Other numbers from Ballad on Saturday included:
• 85 COVID-19 deaths in the system’s service area over the last seven days.
• 210 COVID-19 patients hospitalized; 38 in intensive care; 29 on ventilators.
• 33,607 total cases and 631 total deaths in the system’s service area since March 1.
All of Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had new cases reported Saturday, according to TDH, for a total of 279 new cases. Cases by county: 100 in Sullivan; 77 in Washington; 26 in Greene; 21 in Carter; 22 in Hawkins; 26 in Unicoi; five in Johnson; and two in Hancock.
Total cases in Northeast Tennessee reached 20,484 Saturday. By county: 5,855 in Sullivan; 5,415 in Washington; 2,7141 in Greene; 2,474 in Carter; 1,749 in Hawkins; 1,356 in Johnson; 754 in Unicoi; and 140 in Hancock.
Active cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 837 in Sullivan; 654 in Washington; 344 in Carter; 333 in Greene; 224 in Hawkins; 127 in Unicoi; 49 in Johnson; and 12 in Hancock.
With nine deaths reported statewide on the TDH COVID-19 dashboard, cases were listed in the age group breakdown as: two in the 81+ group; one in the 71-80 group; five in the 61-70 group; and one in the 41-50 group.
Far Southwest Virginia saw no deaths but added more than 40 cases to its pandemic total, according to Saturday’s state data report.
The Virginia Department of Health said the LENOWISCO Health District tallied 44 cases for totals of 2,661 and 57 deaths during the pandemic.
Scott County had 17 cases for totals of 689 and 12 deaths. Wise County also saw 17 cases for 1,114 and 33 deaths.
Lee County added six cases for 789 and 12 deaths. Norton saw four cases for 69 and no deaths.
The VDH reported that the state had 2,348 new cases and 26 additional deaths in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 215,679 cases and 3,938 deaths.
The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Saturday’s VDH report was 3,489,267 of 8.63 million residents, or 40.43%. For nasal swab testing only, 3,071,135 people have been tested to date, or 35.59%. In the LENOWISCO district, 22,530 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 26.05%.
• Lee County, 7,094 of 23,423, or 30.29%.
• Norton, 2,116 of 3,981, or 53.15%.
• Wise County, 8,490 of 37,383, or 22.71%.
• Scott County, 4,857 of 21,566, or 22.52%.
Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and added a case for one active staff/contractor cases, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and a single active staff/contractor case.
The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Saturday’s report rose from 16.9% to 18.6%. The statewide positivity rate decreased from 7% to 6.8%.
According to Saturday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as fluctuating after a four-day decrease in daily cases.
The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 46-day increase in that measure.
All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Norton City Schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Wise, Lee and Scott counties schools were ranked lowest-risk.
Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.
The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:
• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.
• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.
• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.
Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.
The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.
In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.