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Does downtown Kingsport need a baseball stadium?

Matthew Lane • Oct 11, 2018 at 10:18 AM

KINGSPORT — Building a new minor league baseball stadium in downtown Kingsport is now the main focus of the One Kingsport initiative. It essentially takes the place of the outdoor venue idea and expands upon it.

Not only would a new stadium be used by the Mets during the summer season, it could also be used year-round for a variety of events, including concerts, festivals and local baseball games. Even though a new stadium would be a few years away and come with an estimated cost of $12 million, city leaders expressed support for such a project this week.

But is it the right thing to do?

That’s the main question that came out of a called meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday.

A QUICK RECAP

Three years ago this month, more than 150 elected, business and community leaders gathered for a two-day summit to brainstorm ideas on how to make Kingsport the premiere destination in our region. More than 100 “big ideas,” policy changes and capital projects came out of the One Kingsport summit, all of which were eventually prioritized into a five-year plan.

An advisory commission then took the plan and came back with a list of the top five projects on which Kingsport should focus its efforts. One of those projects was the creation of an outdoor venue at Brickyard Park, a project that appeared to have the support of the BMA and many in the community.

However, during an August meeting when city leaders heard about the costs associated with the project, support seemed to waver. As a result, the BMA requested a joint meeting with the advisory commission to reassess the One Kingsport initiative and see what other options are available.

TUESDAY’S MEETING

The joint meeting took place Tuesday afternoon and lasted about two hours. In it, city leaders were presented with two more “big ideas” as possible One Kingsport projects. They were:

- Locating a minor league baseball stadium at Brickyard Park

- Creating an indoor entertainment venue at the State Theater.

“(The State Theater) project has been on the city’s radar for some time now,” said Chris McCartt, assistant city manager for administration. “Maintaining some semblance of that facade is important to downtown, and we’d have to be open-minded about the future of the building.”

The State Theater is privately owned and according to McCartt needs about $350,000 in immediate repairs. An additional $2 million in renovations would also be needed to make the theater presentable and usable.

The BMA voiced interest in seeing an improved State Theater, but said it should probably be in the form of a public/private partnership. It would not necessarily be a One Kingsport project, McCartt said.

DOWNTOWN STADIUM

Relocating Hunter Wright Stadium to downtown Kingsport has been a topic of discussion among city staff for years, predating the One Kingsport summit of three years ago, McCartt said. Information provided to the BMA show a 3,500- to 4,500-seat stadium at Brickyard Park with an estimated cost of $12 million.

The stadium would have artificial turf and be used not only for minor league baseball, but other events as well, such as concerts, festivals and by local baseball teams and leagues. If the BMA were to move forward with such a project, it would take the place of the outdoor venue project. The existing stadium off Stone Drive would remain and be used by the city’s parks and recreation department.

Mayor John Clark said such a project “is going to take courage” and be revolutionary for Kingsport and the region.

What’s next is for city staff to provide the BMA with an in-depth analysis on a downtown baseball stadium, further analysis of the cost of construction, maintenance and operational expenses. McCartt said he would like for the BMA to have those numbers by the end of the year.

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