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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Douglass School Renovations Hit Stumbling Block: Alderman Objects To Nonprofit Section of V.O. Dobbins Center

‘I have a big problem with the city becoming a landlord and competing with the private sector.’
— Alderman Ken Marsh



KINGSPORT — As Kingsport moves forward with an $8.7 million renovation and expansion project at the V.O. Dobbins Community Center, one alderman has a problem with the city becoming a landlord with the nonprofit wing of the center.

V.O. Dobbins is a city-owned community center located between Louis and Wheatley streets in the Riverview community. The building served as Kingsport’s “blacks only” school from 1951 to 1966.
Kingsport officials have talked about renovating V.O. Dobbins for years. Last year talk turned into action, and the city earmarked $8.7 million in its capital improvement plan to renovation and expand the facility.
Bonds are expected to be issued later this summer, and construction is expected to begin in the late fall and take approximately 18 months to complete.

Conceptual art and layout drawings exist for the new facility, which calls for demolishing 13,600 square feet of the existing building, renovating the remaining 46,000 square feet, and adding just over 50,000 square feet of new space — 30,900 of which will be a new nonprofit center.
The nonprofit center will house the United Way, American Legion and the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency. The nonprofits will pay approximately $3.50 to $5 a square foot per year in rent. In addition, Kingsport is allocating space, computers and furniture for the nonprofit Douglass Alumni Association and the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Web site, free of charge.
The American Red Cross of Northeast Tennessee, which was supposed to take up the entire first floor (12,900 square feet) of the three-story nonprofit center, recently voted not to relocate to the facility. City officials plan to meet this week with the architects on any possible adjustments to the nonprofit center in light of the Red Cross’ decision.

During a Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session Monday afternoon, Alderman Ken Marsh voiced his opinion on the proposed nonprofit center, asking why the public is being called upon to subsidize the nonprofit organizations.
“I have a big problem with the city becoming a landlord and competing with the private sector,” Marsh said. “All of the organizations that are coming in, all of them are out there in buildings that they rent. When they move out, it’s putting a vacant spot on the market.
“I strongly object to the city competing with the private enterprise sector. I think it’s a big mistake.”

Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote said there are many ways beyond this one in which Kingsport competes with the private sector, such as with BFI for garbage collection.
“Part of the reason we’re doing this is it’s good for our community partners, who are good for Kingsport, and we’re doing it to add some vitality to the neighborhood,” Mallicote said. “We’re pretty far down the road on this project to have this discussion. I think the issue has been raised and answered to the satisfaction of a majority of this board.”
The Times-News first reported the idea of a nonprofit center going in a renovated V.O. Dobbins Center back in February 2007.

Mayor Dennis Phillips said the intent is to get the nonprofit organizations into the most affordable situation.
“The thinking is every dollar they pay for rent is money that doesn’t go to their mission,” Phillips said. “We are down the road, but I do think we need to look at the Red Cross situation.”
Marsh said the nonprofit center is something the BMA should have looked at more carefully than it has at this point.
“This is direct competition,” Marsh said.

Alderman Larry Munsey said the project has lots of satisfaction and enthusiasm from the community.
“And a lot of that satisfaction and enthusiasm from the community is based upon the concept we now have,” Munsey said. “We’re a long way down that road.”