A parking lot is… just a parking lot. Right?
In most cases it really is just that straightforward and simple. Parking lots do what they are designed to do which is to provide parking space and access to a specific destination for visitors. Except, the Kingsport Veterans Memorial parking lot and memorial access area isn’t just any parking lot as it bears witness to the power of a community’s voice and a city government that actively listens to its residents.
In selecting a site, visitor access was one of several considerations for selection by the Kingsport Veterans Memorial Committee. J. Fred Johnson Park certainly met that criteria as onsite already was a parking area and a building that for years served as a Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) post before being utilized as office space for the City of Kingsport’s Human Resources and Engineering departments. On the opposite side of the park exists a street, Indian Court, with room enough to accommodate additional parking with the right design.
One problem, however, that loomed was that the parcel of land the old THP building and parking lot was located on was not part of the land donated by the City of Kingsport for the veterans memorial. Instead, it remained property of the City of Kingsport and soon would be the center piece of a larger conversation that ultimately found a wonderful result.
In August 2009, a South Carolina developer submitted preliminary drawings to the City of Kingsport planning department in hopes that its leadership would consider selling the property so they could develop the lot and build a 12,900-square-foot commercial development. The developer had stated a willingness to pay $1.7 million for the two acre property.
Once the plans of the developer went public, Kingsport residents began to flood the offices of the Mayor and Aldermen with concerns, complaints, and opposition. Most, though understanding of the City’s need to at least explore the proposal, were adamantly against the plan. Others opposing the plan were more direct and less understanding.
The issue was understandably an emotionally charged one as, regardless of the differences in their approach and how they communicated their opposition, one thing was clear: all agreed that a commercial development located directly beside the Kingsport Veterans Memorial would be distasteful to the veterans it was built to honor and remember.
Real or perceived, government often gets a bad rap for not caring what its citizens may think on any number of issues. Kingsport’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, on the other hand, cared deeply about what their constituents thought. Wisely, and without further pursuit of the hypothetical plans, they heeded the voice of the City’s residents and dropped the possibility of selling the property and, instead, preserved its use as parking space for the Veterans Memorial.
Later, in 2017, the building was torn down and the lot redesigned and developed for improved, more efficient public use. Handicap access to the memorial and more parking was added to the site. The improved site would also provide additional parking for sporting events at Dobyns-Bennett High School or for those participating in any number of activities or events during Fun Fest, a week-long festival held annually in Kingsport.
The improvements made came just ahead of the installation of the Gold Star Families Memorial that was added to the Kingsport Veterans Memorial and officially dedicated on September 25, 2017. “The parking lot will support all the activities, especially the Veterans Memorial where we see a lot of daily visitors,” Frazier said. “Handicapped accessibility is extremely important and we are expanding the memorial to include the Gold Star Family dedication later this fall so all of this comes into a great package to include that part and create a greater access point for the public.”1
To quote President Abraham Lincoln from his Gettysburg Address: “ …government of the people, by the people, for the people…” That’s the one. Performing nicely in the City of Kingsport for and by its people.
1 Counts, Doug. “Kingsport Building Torn Down to Make Way for More Veterans Memorial Parking.” WJHL|Tri-Cities News & Weather, WJHL|Tri-Cities News & Weather, 28 July 2017, https://www.wjhl.com/news/kingsport-building-torn-down-to-make-way-for-more-veterans-memorial-parking/. Accessed 3 May 2022.