Tennessee editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Kingsport Times News on the competition over new developments in northeastern Tennessee:
It’s been five years since the first stores opened at the region’s largest retail site, The Pinnacle at Bristol. Now, Johnson City is staking its claim to a potentially competing retail development.
Where would that leave Kingsport?
The Pinnacle created an alleged 2,000 jobs and $200 million in annual sales through 10 anchor stores including Bass Pro Shops, CARMAX and the region’s largest Belk. The 250-acre complex also houses 16 restaurants and eateries like Outback Steakhouse, Aubrey’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill, as well as a 12-screen Megaplex movie theater and indoor trampoline park.
It was to be built at Kingsport. But Bass Pro wanted $25 million in incentives, and the project stalled over that and control of the proposed site at Tri City Crossings. Said then Mayor Dennis Phillips, “You can’t sell (general obligation) bonds so you have to have private developers that will put up that money up front and we were unable to obtain the $25 million. Quite frankly, if you don’t control the land, you don’t have anything to offer when it comes to economic development and in this case we didn’t control the land.”
The site is owned by Kingsport developer Stewart Taylor and has yet to attract an anchor tenant.
And so the development went to Bristol, which stepped up with a $25 million loan package and an $8 million road project through the retail center, $2 million of which was funded through a state grant.
Now, Johnson City has just taken major steps to compete with The Pinnacle.
Last month the state announced a contract to transform the Exit 17 area of Interstate 26 at Boones Creek, most of which has been annexed by Johnson City, into a “diverging diamond” configuration. The project has an estimated timeline of 18 months, and construction will start this summer.
State Rep. Matthew Hill said the reconfiguration is the first step in the development of the area. “That means now hopefully some of the industries and employers that have spoken with the chamber and with developers will be more willing to come there because that interchange will be fixed,” Hill said.
Then, in what Hill called adding a sledgehammer to the area’s economic tool box, legislation that proponents hope will produce a developed area along the Boones Creek corridor similar to The Pinnacle was signed by Gov. Bill Lee. It creates a 950-acre district where 75 percent of new sales tax revenue will be used to incentivize retail tenants.
To comply with the terms of the law, the district must draw 1 million visitors per year, produce at least $20 million in capital investment, and generate $2 million per year in sales and use taxes. How long will that take? Perhaps not long at all.
For years, the region has had the welcome mat out for Costco, the world’s largest retailer of choice and prime beef, organic foods, rotisserie chicken and wine. Four years ago, Hill said he was aware of a possible deal to bring Costco to the region as the anchor for a large retail development provided certain conditions were met. Those conditions included fixing the Boones Creek I-26 exit and creating a development plan.
That work has now been approved. The development plan for Boones Creek provides the necessary carrot.
So where does that leave Kingsport? Does it have the leadership, the commitment and the organization to stake its claim?
The Cleveland Banner on the importance of perfect attendance for school children:
Classroom doors within the Cleveland City and Bradley County School systems closed for the summer several weeks ago, but it’s never too late to honor exemplary performance, especially when displayed by students at the elementary level.
Case in point: Youngsters in both school districts who finished the 2018-19 year with perfect attendance.
In recognition of their efforts, Cleveland Masonic Lodge 134 and Scott’s Bicycle Centre — as they have done now for eight years — partnered to hold drawings in both school systems for vouchers for new bicycles.
In a perfect world, all elementary students attaining perfect attendance would receive such awards; however, that would have been asking too much from a single small business and one local civic organization. So, the names of four lucky youngsters — two from each school system — were drawn from among the list of students who finished the year with no unexcused absences.
The winning students, and their respective schools, included:
— Jordin Bradford, George R. Stuart Elementary, Cleveland City Schools;
— Michael Jacinto-Augustin, Hopewell Elementary, Bradley County Schools;
— Hicari Karaseran, Waterville Community Elementary, Bradley County Schools; and
— Yenri Mazarigos, Blythe-Bower Elementary, Cleveland City Schools.
It should be remembered perfect attendance is more than just a set of numbers defining who went to school and who didn’t, and who was lucky enough to evade the flu bug during its traditional January-through-March invasion. Perfect attendance personifies a mindset, a commitment to go above and beyond.
It also distinguishes students who have a desire to move forward in whatever direction education can take them.
Young Hicari Karaseran of Waterville Community Elementary said it best when he told staff writer Christy Armstrong why he achieved his unblemished school record: “I am really excited about this. I had perfect attendance because I love school, and it is cool to have it be noticed.”
Indeed. It is just as “cool” to know there are still youngsters out there who feel that way.
While students are doing their part, it is just as meaningful that community organizations and local businesses are getting involved. The fact that Scott’s Bicycle and Cleveland Masonic Lodge have been initiating this spotlight on student success for eight years should serve as a model for others.
We also appreciate the thought behind the awards: It’s all about teaching students — at the earliest of levels — the importance of going to school. When good habits are formed at such early ages, they will be carried over into adult years when high school and college graduates are trying to find their way in a world that is not always welcoming or forgiving.
“The thing we want to instill in you is that having perfect attendance can carry you throughout life, through school and through work,” Masonic Lodge spokesman Barry Phillips told the group.
He is correct.
In today’s employment world, attendance means everything. Workers with absenteeism issues are often the last to be considered for promotion or leadership opportunities. Why? Because to prove they can lead employees must show up.
Scott Coulter, whose bicycle business is making the awards possible, said it’s also about giving kids an incentive to succeed.
“Any time we can encourage students to be successful, it is important that we’re all on aboard,” Coulter stressed.
It is closely akin to the village approach. Truly, it takes a collective to raise a child. It is not what one adult or one parent or one educator or one coach or one pastor or one uncle or one aunt or one grandparent or one doctor or one mentor can do. It is about what all can do together.
We thank Cleveland Masonic Lodge and Scott’s Bicycle Centre for offering the incentive.
We thank school system directors Dr. Linda Cash and Dr. Russell Dyer, and a strong group of principals and teachers, for laying the path.
We thank young students like Jordin and Michael and Hicari and Yenri for following it.
Perfect attendance is not easy to attain. If it were, everyone would do it.
The Johnson City Press on an increase in the lodging tax in Erwin compared to the rest of Tennessee:
Erwin is banking on outsiders.
As Senior Reporter Sue Guinn Legg reported in Tuesday’s edition, the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a 2.5% tax on lodging stays. That’s on top of Unicoi County’s existing 5% county levy on hotel/motel accommodations.
You can add that to the state sales rate of 7% and the local option rate of 2.75% (the maximum available under Tennessee law) and a night’s stay in Erwin will run a visitor a 17.25% combined levy on the price of a room.
In light of the existing county tax, the state comptroller’s office rejected the town’s initial proposal to add a 5% tax earlier this year, which would have resulted in a 19.75% combined rate.
Still, the smaller increase approved Monday makes Erwin’s combined rate second in Northeast Tennessee only to the municipal rates in Sullivan County. According to state data collected in 2015 (the latest available), Sullivan’s rates range from 19.75% in Bristol to 21.75% in Kingsport and the county’s section of Johnson City. The latter is the highest combined rate in Tennessee. In the Washington County portion of Johnson City, the rate is 16.75%.
Erwin’s justification for the big tax? Town and Unicoi County leaders want the mountainous county to be more of a destination, and a consulting firm recommended using hotel/motel tax collections in part for a new tourism development office.
Unicoi County’s existing outdoor amenities — including Nolichucky River rafting, the Linear Trail in Erwin and the Pinnacle Trail on Buffalo Mountain — already offer outdoor enthusiasts reason to visit. The county is also home to a section of the Appalachian Trail and a popular hostel, as well as Tennessee’s newest state park, Rocky Fork.
And that’s just a fraction of the recreational potential in a county filled with ridges and streams.
So it stands to reason the town would want to capitalize on the traffic by taxing the travelers. Tourism dollars not only help local businesses grow, but also can ease the tax burden on residents.
We’re no fan of new taxes, but there appears to be little downside for a government to tax visitors. A recent Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations report found that lodging customers overall are not all that sensitive to higher prices. Lodging taxes have little to do with choice of hotel.
The Comptroller’s Office was right to reject Erwin’s first shot at a big lodging tax. The 2.5% rate is reasonable, keeping it competitive with neighboring Johnson City’s slightly lower overall rate. The key will be just how local leaders invest those dollars in their efforts to draw more people to Unicoi County. More amenities. More reasons to visit and stay.
Taxes are just excessive burdens on consumers if they are not put to good use.