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ETSU sports science facility inches closer to reality

Zach Vance • Updated Sep 27, 2018 at 11:57 PM

Once considered a “pipe dream,” the proposal to build a sports science research facility in Johnson City appears to be materializing.

There are still plenty of questions regarding the multi-faceted undertaking, which involves international investors, the City of Johnson City and East Tennessee State University, but the first drafts of the facility’s designs and schematics have been completed.

Rick Kucera, one of the partners involved in the project, said his group hired Knoxville-based Partners Development to draw up the preliminary design and conduct cost estimates, both of which are now complete.

“It looks like it's going to happen. We're getting closer, but when you're dealing with something of this magnitude with many people involved, I think it's really important to take it one step at a time,” Kucera said.

City officials have estimated the project could lead to a $50 million investment, but because the designs and cost estimates have not been finalized, Kucera declined to share all the specifics at this time.

However, based on the initial design, Kucera said the single-story, “open-concept” facility would be about 92,000 square feet, and could include an indoor track, a weight room, a laboratory and some retail space. He also said the building would have plenty of windows facing Buffalo Mountain.

“I think that's about all I can say. Those are all in the renderings right now,” Kucera said.

Kucersa said those designs have been shown to Drs. Meg and Mike Stone at ETSU, who are credited with dreaming up the project and who remain heavily involved. The Stones’ Center for Excellence for Sports Science and Coach Education is expected to operate and manage the facility, if or when it’s built.

Kucera said ETSU President Brian Noland plans to attend a Friday meeting where he will learn more about where the project currently stands.

Then on Sunday, Kucera and his partners will fly to Asia for two weeks where they will meet with more investors and build additional support for the project. Kucera said it will be his third trip to Asia to advocate for the project.

“It's been a long time in the making, and I think the dream is starting to look closer to a reality. I'm just trying to keep my feet on the ground until I get in the air on Sunday,” Kucera said.

“Right now, I'm very positive about (the project). I'm looking forward to the trip. We'll be gone for two weeks and a lot more questions will be answered by the time I come back.”

As it currently stands, the city has offered a 30-acre plot along West Market Street in exchange for an investment to build the facility.

Last summer, Johnson City Mayor David Tomita, Commissioner Todd Fowler and City Manager Pete Peterson flew to Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan, to meet with some of the investors interested in the project.

In March, Peterson told commissioners that Jeff Hsu, president of Integration Sports, and other interested parties had invested $500,000 into a limited liability company, called Peak Force LLC, to get the project moving.

The whole reason Asian investors were drawn to Johnson City is because of ETSU’s Center for Excellence for Sports Science and Coach Education, directed by the Stones.

The Stones’ unique knowledge and research in the emerging field of sports science caught the eye of Asian investors, who became interested in a partnership to build the sports science research facility and ultimately send Asian athletes to Johnson City to train.

Peterson recently told commissioners that the project is already drawing interest from Chinese and Taiwanese athletes, who are eager to train at the facility once it’s built.

“This facility is generating momentum, and there are some hard dollars invested now,” Peterson said.

“We're very hopeful that the momentum will continue to grow, and this project will keep moving forward. This is an awesome opportunity for us to be better known on the national stage, and it's an opportunity for us and the university to work together to establish a new industry.”

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