Editorial: Can Kingsport claim a piece of the pie?

It’s been five years since the first stores opened at the region’s largest retail site, The Pinnacle at Bristol. Now, Johnson City is staking its claim to a potentially competing retail development.

Where would that leave Kingsport?

The Pinnacle created an alleged 2,000 jobs and $200 million in annual sales through 10 anchor stores including Bass Pro Shops, CARMAX and the region’s largest Belk. The 250-acre complex also houses 16 restaurants and eateries like Outback Steakhouse, Aubrey’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill, as well as a 12-screen Megaplex movie theater and indoor trampoline park.

It was to be built at Kingsport. But Bass Pro wanted $25 million in incentives, and the project stalled over that and control of the proposed site at Tri City Crossings. Said then Mayor Dennis Phillips, “You can’t sell (general obligation) bonds so you have to have private developers that will put up that money up front and we were unable to obtain the $25 million. Quite frankly, if you don’t control the land, you don’t have anything to offer when it comes to economic development and in this case we didn’t control the land.”

The site is owned by Kingsport developer Stewart Taylor and has yet to attract an anchor tenant.

And so the development went to Bristol, which stepped up with a $25 million loan package and an $8 million road project through the retail center, $2 million of which was funded through a state grant.

Now, Johnson City has just taken major steps to compete with The Pinnacle.

Last month the state announced a contract to transform the Exit 17 area of Interstate 26 at Boones Creek, most of which has been annexed by Johnson City, into a “diverging diamond” configuration. The project has an estimated timeline of 18 months, and construction will start this summer.

State Rep. Matthew Hill said the reconfiguration is the first step in the development of the area. “That means now hopefully some of the industries and employers that have spoken with the chamber and with developers will be more willing to come there because that interchange will be fixed,” Hill said.

Then, in what Hill called adding a sledgehammer to the area’s economic tool box, legislation that proponents hope will produce a developed area along the Boones Creek corridor similar to The Pinnacle was signed by Gov. Bill Lee. It creates a 950-acre district where 75 percent of new sales tax revenue will be used to incentivize retail tenants.

To comply with the terms of the law, the district must draw 1 million visitors per year, produce at least $20 million in capital investment, and generate $2 million per year in sales and use taxes. How long will that take? Perhaps not long at all.

For years, the region has had the welcome mat out for Costco, the world’s largest retailer of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken and wine. Four years ago, Hill said he was aware of a possible deal to bring Costco to the region as the anchor for a large retail development provided certain conditions were met. Those conditions included fixing the Boones Creek I-26 exit and creating a development plan.

That work has now been approved. The development plan for Boones Creek provides the necessary carrot.

So where does that leave Kingsport? Does it have the leadership, the commitment and the organization to stake its claim?