There has always been competition between each of the Tri-Cities. Another gauntlet thrown down by Bristol and Johnson City could be about to be picked up by Kingsport.
Watauga Brewing Company’s Skybar invites patrons to “visit the best sight for a drink in all of downtown Johnson City,” billing itself as Johnson City’s “first and only rooftop bar.”
Bristol’s first rooftop bar is Lumac, which “inspires heartfelt conversation, lingering under the stars and lounging over hand-poured libations while enjoying 360-degree views of the scenic Appalachia and the sparkling downtown”.
Kingsport doesn’t have a rooftop bar, but that could change. Town native Mark Hunt owns the Body Shop on Wilcox Drive and in early 2020 bought the State Theater in downtown Kingsport. Hunt intends to turn the state into an event space, possibly complete with a bar on top of what could become a premier entertainment venue.
The state opened on March 6, 1936, with 700 seats and screen and stage capacity featuring Bing Crosby in the movie “Anything Goes.” It was decorated with a Mediterranean garden wall, wall paintings and a constellation of illuminated stars on the ceiling. It was later refurbished in a more modern style with a permanent screen.
In 1985, it transformed into a theater showing religious themed films, then into the All American Family Cinema in 1988. It then became a café-theatre, a nightclub, a gymnasium, then a school of cheerleading before closing again.
Restoration entrepreneur Doug Beatty purchased the theater in 2005 and attempted to restore the building to its original condition, but the recession took its toll and the Citizens Bank of East Tennessee seized the property.
LampLight Theater of Fall Branch and a group of downtown business owners made offers on the building, although the deals were never finalized. It was purchased in 2014, but no renovations took place.
Hunt finally came to the rescue of a building with a bad roof. He admits that realizing his vision for theater will be expensive, but owning the state has “always been a dream and a passion that I have had since my late teens, early twenties. I’ve had a passion for music since I was 14 or 15,” Hunt said. “I’ve scoured it and hunted it and visited all the different places I know of, and I’m trying to take what I can get and put it in this place to see if we can’t shake things up.”
He expects the venue to bring much-needed attention to Kingsport town centre, as it has in decades past, but says it’s ‘open to anything’ – including balls and other community events.
Hunt has big dreams for the state, like others have for decades. We wish him all the happiness in the world. Hopefully it will restore the building to its former glory. In doing so, he saves a historically significant structure that Kingsport should always protect, and does a great service to the town and its people, who should support him in every way.