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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Opening day: Kingsport officials hope to have sports complex built by spring 2015




KINGSPORT — Kingsport’s new softball/baseball complex could cost as much as $6.4 million to build, and if an optional, fifth field is added to the project, the total price could be bumped up another $1 million.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen got an update on the project last week, including these estimated costs, along with conceptual drawings of the site. The BMA also awarded the bid for the site work and approved a lease agreement with the Kingsport Economic Development Board for a portion of the property where the complex will be built.

Kingsport plans to build a new softball/baseball complex on a portion of the old General Shale property along Industry Drive to replace Eastman Chemical Co.’s ballfields on Wilcox Drive. When Eastman announced its $1.6 billion “Project Inspire” reinvestment plan last year, the plan called for a new corporate office building on the site of the company’s ballfields.

Eastman has demolished the old field house and construction has started on its $74 million office building. The building is scheduled to be completed next year.

According to the conceptual plan, the sports complex will have four ballfields, in a wagonwheel design with a centrally located two-story building for scoring, concessions and restrooms. Two of the fields will be 325 feet, one 350-foot championship field with terrace seating and a fourth field at 300 feet.

Assistant to the City Manager Chris McCartt said all of the fields would be skinned (no grass) with various locations to place the bases to provide for greater diversity. The two-story scoring tower was included to help the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau with tournament recruitment, McCartt said.

Earlier plans show a 300-space parking lot and an adjacent playground. These latest drawings have removed the playground and the parking lot now stands at 250 spaces.

The KEDB purchased the 98-acre General Shale property for $2.77 million. Kingsport plans to lease 38 of the acres for the sports complex with the remaining land envisioned as a potential site for an industrial park.

Last week, the BMA approved the lease with the KEDB and at any time over the next 20 years Kingsport can purchase the property for $10,000 an acre or $380,000.

The other action taken by the BMA last week in relation to the project was awarding a contract to Thomas Construction for site work (mass grading, detention pond, retaining wall). The 120-day contract is for approximately $1.25 million.

City leaders have discussed adding a fifth field (at 325 feet) to the complex, which would bump up the site work cost by $245,000 and the overall cost of the project by $1.1 million. The BMA discussed the option of building the fifth field now as opposed to later when the cost would obviously be more.

McCartt said the city would love to see the fifth field added and once construction bids come in (likely in June), then staff would re-evaluate the possibility of adding the field to the project.

“That would put us in a good position for the foreseeable future,” McCartt said.

“What’s the difference in cost from building it now or in five to 10 years?” Vice-Mayor Mike McIntire asked. “I think it’s substantial.”

As it stands, the project is estimated to cost around $6.4 million, not including the $380,000 for the land. A fifth field would increase the final cost by $1.1 million. Potentially $8 million could easily be spent on the project in the long run.

“On average that’s what you’re paying to build a four-plex similar to what we’re proposing,” Mc-Cartt said.

Kingsport bonded $2.9 million last year for the project, the KEDB has committed $1.3 million and to date the city has spent $375,000 on design work. McCartt said for the city to complete the base package (four-field design), an additional $2.3 million needs to be secured, likely from a future bond anticipation note or bond issuance.

When the idea of a sports complex was first discussed back in June, city officials threw out a $3.5 million price tag for the facility and even included that figure in the 2014 capital improvement plan. In September, when the land purchase price was announced, the $3.5 million was still the target number.

But in December, $2.9 million of bond funds was secured for the project and since then city officials have admitted that additional funds would be necessary to complete the project.

                  Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips (left) and the Board of Mayor & Aldermen

During last week’s meeting, members of the BMA did not raise a fuss about the projected cost of the project, but in subsequent telephone conversations, they did express their concerns about the estimated cost.

“We are committed to build the ballfields and one of the bigger problems that we seem to have is that we are never able to do a project for the amount that we are initially estimating,” said Mayor Dennis Phillips. “It’s a bad thing to do over and over and I think we need to do a much better job in the future of realizing we have more accurate numbers that reflect the true cost.

“That should be a goal of the (BMA) to make sure it happens.”

At this time, Phillips said he is leaning toward building the fifth field if economically possible.

McIntire offered a similar sentiment, but said he is not comfortable with the dollar amount.

“It’s one of those projects that we really don’t have options with. It’s something Eastman has asked us to do and I think we’re committed to doing it,” McIntire said. “I’d like to wait and see the numbers, but I think if there’s a way to do it now I’d support going ahead, getting it done and doing it right.”

When Eastman asked Kingsport to build a sports complex to replace the one going away at Wilcox Drive, the city also incorporated Eastman’s leagues into its Parks and Recreation Department. In all, the department now oversees 750 youth baseball and softball games and 650 adult softball games within the city. Potentially, 1,800 tournament games, such as AAU and USSSA, could also be played on city fields.