City looks to extend relationship with MetsMatthew Lane • Updated Today at 12:00 AM
KINGSPORT — The Model City wants to continue playing ball.
The proposed contract would be for another five years, extending the agreement with the Mets through the 2021 season. The contract calls for the city to make some improvements to the stadium during that time, including an addition to the clubhouse, laser-grading the field and replacing the original scoreboard.
Kingsport has had a minor league team since 1921 and the Mets for the past 35 years. The Kingsport Mets are a rookie affiliate of the New York Mets and are a member of the Appalachian League. Out of the 135 minor league teams across the country, Kingsport's relationship with the Mets is the eighth-longest in the nation.
In recent years, attendance at Hunter Wright Stadium has increased, going from 23,476 in 2013 to 30,464 in 2014 and 31,086 this year.
The most recent contract with the Mets was renewed in 2011, and at the time the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau began managing the usage of Hunter Wright Stadium. Since then, Kingsport built a new batting cage at the stadium, improved the kitchen (so as to allow food to be cooked on site, rather than heated up), added a pavilion and replaced the chain link fence around the clubhouse.
In exchange, Kingsport was allowed to schedule some tournaments at Hunter Wright during the Mets' regular season when the team was on the road. Last year, the stadium hosted five college tournaments, which had an estimated economic impact of $1.56 million.
Frank Lett, with the KCVB, told the BMA on Monday the Kingsport Mets had a $1 million economic impact on the community last year.
With these dollar figures in mind, KCVB officials recommended a five-year contract extension with the Mets, where the organization would pay the city $27,000 a year (with $500 increments each additional year). In return, the city would make certain improvements to the facility.
First up would be a 1,000-square-foot addition to the parking lot side of the clubhouse. The space would be for exercise equipment, office and storage space and bathrooms. Chris McCartt, assistant city manager for administration, said the cost would be approximately $185,000 and the space would need to be done by March 2016.
Also before the start of next season, Kingsport would have the infield playing surface laser graded. Annual projects not to exceed $15,000 per year would be agreed upon by both the city and the Mets, and Kingsport would seek options to replace the current seating and spectator flow and the current scoreboard, which has been used since the facility opened.
McCartt said all of these projects would be funded through the Visitor Enhancement Program — a fund established by the BMA in 2007 to pay for tourism-related projects, with the money coming from a 2 percent increase in the city's hotel/motel tax.
The BMA appeared supportive of the proposed contract and voiced no opposition to the framework. Alderman Tommy Olterman, who said he had not been to the stadium in about two years, praised the improvements made in recent years.
"I was really surprised with how everything is organized. It's a lot different than it used to be," he said.