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Editorial: Outdoor venue remains a viable idea

Editorial Board • Mar 2, 2020 at 9:00 PM

The most popular idea from a Kingsport brainstorming effort five years ago was for the city to build an outdoor venue for concerts and festivals as a magnet project to stimulate downtown development.

Now the city says it is walking away from the project. This is the latest in a series of mistakes associated with this idea.

The first misstep was to locate the project at property adjacent to Brickyard Park. That’s not downtown. It’s adjacent to downtown but on the other side of railroad tracks that pose a physical barrier to access.

The next mistake was to morph the outdoor venue into a combination semi-pro baseball park. That drew loud criticism. “Kingsport already has a ballpark for our minor league team!” shouted the naysayers. They weren’t wrong. The city built one 25 years ago — and mistakenly tucked it neatly way in a section of woods outside the heart of the city, off the beaten path. While we still believe a combination venue would be a wise strategic plan, the point is now moot with the abandonment of the project altogether and the future of the Appalachian League sadly at a crossroads.

A feasibility study of the site finds the soil to be unsuitable for a heavy or large structure. It can be made suitable, but at additional cost. And at an already estimated $14.5 million to build we don’t blame aldermen for washing their hands of it. The property is best suited for housing to meet a serious deficiency in Kingsport. Some 20,000 people work in Kingsport but don’t live here.

The notion of an outdoor venue for concerts and festivals as a downtown magnet is as viable now as when proposed five years ago. In October 2015, hundreds of citizens gathered for a two-day summit to create a five-year roadmap for the city, and a multipurpose outdoor venue topped the list of ideas. It was seen as a location for concerts, but also for festivals, car and boat shows, food truck rodeos, art events, and more. Primarily, this describes spacious and permanent staging and seating.

In just 11 years Racks by the Tracks has become a huge event, last year selling out a 2,000-ticket craft beer tasting and attracting in excess of 15,000 attendees, not just from the region, but Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky. The Twilight Alive Concert Series of free concerts throughout the summer also packs downtown Kingsport.

We encourage the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to keep this project alive and search for a downtown location. A little creative thinking is all that’s needed.

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