Article by: Debra McCown
March 10, 2013
When you ask Sherri Mosley, executive director of the Downtown Kingsport Association, what she wants the city's downtown to look like, she points to the stretch of Market Street between Commerce and Broad.
On that block of modernized storefronts, there's a cake, a salon, an art gallery, a clay studio, a toy store, a printer and several unique shops.
It is, to me, the model of what downtown revitalization should be," Mosley said. "They have the appropriate clustering of restaurants, art and specialty shops. They could even use another restaurant."
Shops have also clustered around the corner on Broad Street between Church Circle and Main. Macado's and Italian Village have announced their intention to open restaurants on Broad Street, and restaurant recruitment efforts continue. It's a relatively small area in a downtown encompassing 44 blocks, Mosley said - but it is a great model of what the rest of downtown could be like.
"We're taking it one day at a time, one step at a time, to revitalize and preserve Downtown Kingsport," she said. "It's an ongoing process."
Business owners in the revitalized pocket talk about the energy, enthusiasm, and the way everyone's vision seems to fit together.
"There's a lot of momentum, a lot of like-mindedness in Downtown Kingsport right now," said Jacki Ewing, owner of Charmed Southern boutique and Promotions Committee chair for the Association. "It's really exciting."
With the help of some targeted advertising during the holiday shopping season. Ewing said, people from around the Tri-Cities region have begun to discover Kingsport's Downtown as a dining and shopping destination. She hopes it will help to develop a nightlife downtown.
John and Angela Vachon, whose redevelopment work has put them at the heart of downtown progress, are quick to quantify its potential.
John Vachon said 20,000 people work within a mile of Downtown Kingsport, 64 percent of them white-collar employees. Those numbers put Kingsport on par demographically with successful urban areas like Knoxville: Asheville, N.C.; and Greenville, S.C., he said.
Millions of cars pass through Downtown Kingsport each year, he said, and the city has seen an influx of young professionals who want to be in the center of things, where they can find concerts, art galleries, restaurants and other young professionals. Coincidentally, empty-nesters and retirees are seeking the same vibrant atmosphere.
In Kingsport, a spirit of cooperation has developed, with all different entities in the city working together in a common effort to revitalize, and a recently constructed parking deck helps to accommodate the growing traffic downtown.
Angela Vachon said Kingsport's 207-acre downtown has far more room for development than those of nearby Bristol or Johnson City - and she'd like to see every Downtown Kingsport building restored.
So far, she said, the Downtown Kingsport area has 800 businesses employing 6,000 people - an employment figure that rivals any of the area's major industries. Growth in this area has provided opportunity for those who've lost jobs in the recession. she said.
Mosley said the city's 40-year-old Main Street program has four active committees that are following a tried-and-true approach to helping revitalize the city's heart. The Promotion and Merchant committees have been organizing an event where participating merchants will hold a spring open house on March 16 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with sidewalk sales and promotions.
"Every city needs a strong and vibrant core," Mosley said.
"When a downtown is thriving and doing well, the the rest of the community thrives as well."