KINGSPORT - City Manager John Campbell continued to make the case for the higher education center Wednesday, telling a group of Rotarians the project would play on the synergy already taking place in downtown Kingsport.
Campbell made these comments before the Kingsport Rotary Club on Wednesday, highlighting many of the positive things happening in the Model City including information on the housing market, relocation initiative, downtown redevelopment, annexation and the proposed higher education center.
"Having observed Kingsport for many years, this is probably some of the most exciting times I can think of," Campbell said. "It's not because I'm here. It's because a lot of hard work has been done by a lot of community leaders."
Last week, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to move forward with the higher education center proposal and budget up to $2.5 million for architectural, engineering and planning services and any possible land acquisition.
The vision calls for a $10 million to $12 million, 50,000-square-foot center to be built in downtown Kingsport.
The proposed center is being modeled, in part, after a multi-college higher education center in Greenville, S.C., where several different colleges offer associate, bachelor's and master's degrees under one roof.
Campbell described the higher education center as a window of opportunity for the city and compared it to other recent similar projects such as the Regional Center for Applied Technology and the new elementary school in the Rock Springs community.
"Kingsport will regularly be presented with windows of opportunity to influence our destiny to varying degrees. Most communities like Kingsport can grow naturally, but we can create our own windows of opportunity," Campbell said. "We knew (the new school) would stimulate the housing market, and once (the RCAT) was successful, the higher education center was almost a no-brainer after that."
Some people in the community, including Aldermen Ken Marsh and Pat Shull, have raised questions about the higher education center. One recurring question is "Why downtown?"
Campbell went down a list of answers to this question on Wednesday.
"Over the last decade through two communitywide visioning processes, downtown has been identified as a great area for redevelopment, and Kingsport has already started down the road toward a campus with the RCAT," Campbell said. "One of the things that comes available to us in the downtown, the demographics is such in that census track it is eligible for $2 million to $4 million in new market tax credits.
"We think we have a fair chance in getting some of those."
Campbell added Kingsport should try and play on the synergism already taking place in downtown.
"This will just feed it," he said. "Some of the tipping points for developers in downtown has been the higher education center. I've heard that from people from out of town and they're thinking about putting their money here."
In addition, last year's quality of life survey of 1,364 Model City residents found that 66.8 percent of respondents favored a higher education center project and a downtown location.
During the 20-minute presentation Wednesday, Campbell also touched on other "pluses" taking place within the city.
Campbell said new commercial and residential investment jumped 24 percent to $88.5 million in 2006 resulting in the highest annual growth in 13 years. A total of 135 new single-family units valued at $21.2 million were built last year, with the average value being $157,631.
"That's significant because our housing market had kind of stalled," Campbell said.
Kingsport also saw 54 new commercial projects worth $26.38 million take place, and the city is on pace to exceed $88.5 million in new investment in 2007.
The Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce launched a new recruitment initiative last October called "Move to Kingsport," and Campbell said in the last eight months there were 780 new relocations to Kingsport - 231 were from 32 states other than Tennessee and Virginia.
"We're the only real county, particularly Kingsport, that has looked at that as something more than boomer retiree recruitment. We're looking at all age groups because of work force needs," Campbell said.
Campbell described the revitalization of downtown as a "renaissance," saying there has been $9.1 million in property sales in downtown Kingsport over the past three years, along with $14.3 million invested for restaurants, loft condos and coffee shops.
"If you haven't been to Broad Street lately, there's about six new restaurants in the last six months," Campbell said.
Campbell also touched on the city's debt level, saying Kingsport is in good financial shape and would pay off $64 million in debt over the next six years.
"Debt is a relative thing. It's a common thing in the public sector, and the key is how well you manage that debt," Campbell said. "The idea of having no debt is a pretty tough task and maybe not the smartest thing in this day and age."