Downtown sees potential gains on two fronts | Local News

ByShannon J. Cortes

Mar 8, 2022

The focus was on town center growth – as well as the revival of a town center corridor – during the Kingsport Board and Mayor and Aldermen’s business session on Monday.

The Downtown Kingsport Association provided the board with a 2021 presentation, while the Kingsport Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization announced the completion of a study to update the East Center Street Corridor.

“What we heard overwhelmingly was that people wanted to see a more attractive corridor,” said Kevin Tilbury, along with East Center Street Corridor Study Consultant Kimley-Horn. “They wanted more landscaping opportunities, trees. They wanted to focus on improving the appearance.

The board will vote Tuesday night on whether to approve the study, which began in June with Nashville-based Kimley-Horn in the lead.

The study was funded by a state grant, with the overall cost being $117,000 and the city paying $12,000.

The corridor study covered East Center Street from East Sullivan Street to Fort Henry Drive.

Takeaways from the study were that most residents wanted landscaping, beautification, on-street parking, medians and bulbs, and maintaining bike lanes west of Wilcox Drive.

Tilbury said the proposed improvements could be completed in two phases, with the first phase being able to be completed in three years at a cost of between $1.3 million and $1.5 million. The second phase could come after three years and cost between $1.2 million and $1.4 million, he said.

There is also an additional impact on economic development, Tilbury said.

Once the corridor is redeveloped, there is 250,000 square feet of potential retail and office space in the area and the potential to add up to 350 new jobs.

He also said there may be grants available through state or federal funds to help defray the cost of rehabilitating the state highway that runs through downtown Kingsport.

“Having this plan in place will put you in a much more competitive position for grants,” he said.

Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull asked if the city needed to get approval from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to make changes to the road because technically it is a state road.

“In theory, that’s the TDOT plan that they’re letting locals help draft,” said deputy city manager Ryan McReynolds.

McReynolds said the state understands that residents know best what improvements need to be made.

Vice-Mayor Colette George asked if the city would be responsible for maintaining medians or bulbs placed on a newly constructed road.

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McReynolds said the city will be responsible, and when the time comes, the full cost of the project will be listed, along with ongoing operating budget costs.

“There are different ways of looking at it,” he said.

DOWNTOWN KINGSPORT SEES GROWTH

Greg Perdue, Chairman of the Board of the Downtown Kingsport Association, gave the BMA an overview of what the city center has seen over the past year.

The downtown Kingsport events have resulted in significant sales for several businesses, Perdue said.

He said the association couldn’t get numbers for all the companies, but, anecdotally, he said Boomtown & Co., Kingsport saw a 225% increase during December’s Shop & Hop, the biggest day of sales for the store since its opening.

Hometown Cottage Kingsport saw a 48% increase in sales on Small Business Saturdays and a 48% increase in sales during the November Shop & Hop compared to 2020.

Sugar High also saw a 759% increase in sales in December 2021 compared to December 2020.

“Traders, they’ve really felt the economic impact,” Perdue said.

Overall, downtown saw a net gain of 18 new businesses, resulting in a net gain of 44 new jobs in 2021, DKA said.

Perdue also said a new downtown loan program would be announced in June. He said the DKA will provide low-cost financing to existing and new downtown small business owners, landlords or investors.

He said Johnson City has a similar program.

“This is a pretty significant improvement for our downtown businesses,” Perdue said.

He said there will be more marketing and program details later as details are ironed out.

“It hasn’t been made public yet because it doesn’t exist yet,” he said. “It’s been talked about in various circles.”