Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kingsport chooses site for ballfields: Riverview to be directly impacted

The exact site of the new ballfields will be adjacent to Dunbar Street in Riverview



KINGSPORT — Kingsport has selected the General Shale property as the site for its new softball/baseball complex, while the next step will be to firm up a better cost estimate for the project.

The current Eastman ballfields across from the Eastman Headquarters on Wilcox Drive

When Eastman Chemical Co. announced its $1.6 billion “Project Inspire” reinvestment plan earlier this year, the plan included a new corporate office building on the site of its existing ballfields on Wilcox Drive.

Eastman asked Kingsport to build a replacement complex and incorporate the company’s softball league into the city’s parks and recreation department. In a recent bond issuance, Kingsport earmarked $2.9 million for the project.

Kingsport formed a committee of city staff, Eastman employees and Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau officials to develop a plan for how existing city fields would accommodate the old Eastman league and recommend a design and site for the new ballfield complex.

Chris McCartt, assistant to the city manager, gave an update on the project to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, saying the committee’s recommendation is to go with the General Shale property off Industry Drive.

The committee kept a number of things in mind when looking at the 17 possible sites, from being able to accommodate a four-field, wagon-wheel design, to proximity to people, retail, restaurants and major employers to its ability to expand with a fifth field at some point in the future.

“We want to replace what we’ve lost, but we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we could not expand down the road,” McCartt said.

Other considerations included the development costs for the site, the fields having a minimum depth of 325 feet and the complex being able to accommodate tournaments as well, McCartt said.

From the 17 sites, the committee narrowed the list down to seven possibilities — the General Shale property, behind Hunter Wright Stadium, off Rock Springs Drive, the Christ Fellowship location, behind Kmart and near both Walmart locations. The seven sites were then run through a matrix that ranked each one based on the preferred criteria.

“Behind Kmart, no question the location is fantastic. However, there is tremendous difficulty squeezing in 300-foot fences and there’s very little room for expansion and parking,” McCartt said. “Christ Fellowship property ... while having the whole site set up for park space is really nice, when you look at grading and road construction, there would need to be a tremendous amount of money before we get out of the ground.”

With the General Shale property, McCartt said the city had a willing seller and the potential to spur additional activity to downtown due to its proximity to people and Kingsport’s major employers. A fifth field could easily be added to the complex as well.

Under the proposal, Kingsport intends to build four fields on the site — three at 325 feet and one at 350 feet with terrace seating to accommodate baseball if necessary.

Up next would be for the Kingsport Economic Development Board to purchase the property and proceed with the design development phase, which would give the city a better cost estimate for the project.

McCartt said the tentative timeline would be to go out to bid on the project in February, start construction by mid-April and begin play in April 2015. The site would be prepped for a fifth field and related parking.

The selection of the General Shale property does not come as a big surprise.

In September, the BMA approved an option agreement on 98 acres of the General Shale property at a purchase price of $2.77 million. City leaders envision using 30 to 40 acres of the property for the ballfield complex with most of the remaining land being eyed as a potential site for an industrial park, thus the KEDB’s involvement in the deal.