J.D. Sampson: Community center essential

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By Cindy Simpson

Harriman City Councilman J.D. Sampson has a passion for the city, often willing to go to battle for what he feels is in its best interest.

“I’ve really enjoyed the last 10 years I’ve been on Council,” he said. “I just love my city and love trying to help to do what we can do.

“Some people say the city council isn’t doing enough, but in 15  years, we haven’t raised the property tax,” Sampson added.

He’s got some lofty goals for the city, including a new community center downtown, which he thinks could draw in revenue if done right.

He envisions such a center with multiple basketball courts and other space which can be used for basketball tournaments and activities like knife and gun shows to generate revenue.

He’d like to see it adjacent to where the current city hall is, with the city hall inside the new complex.

“If we do it right there, it would rebuild a block and a half right there,” Sampson said. “That might encourage someone else to try.”

Sampson said Harriman used to host a number of basketball tournaments, much like Rockwood promotes baseball and softball today.

He said new courts would again open up that potential.

“I think if we get the new city manager in and he’s a good marketing person, we could keep the gyms full all the time,” Sampson said.

Sampson said the city has plenty to offer recreational wise for children.

The city offers free team sports from baseball, basketball, youth football and cheerleading. He would, however, like to eventually add to the city’s sports complex in Flour Mill Flats.

He’d also like to see some new buildings replace some of the dilapidated downtown structures, which he said need to be torn down.

His idea is to build back on the property, enabling a small road with pull-in parking off Roane Street. He thinks a sort-of spec building would draw in people.

In regard to the Princess Theatre, he points out that many people would like to see a movie theater in Harriman again.

“When they had a theatre, I remember Tuesday nights was dollar night, and me and my family went and there was (three families). They can holler about a theater, but would they go if they had one?” Sampson said.

Sampson said he believes quality housing will help bring people back to Harriman.

Many elderly residents are leaving the area, he said, because Harriman is short on properties like duplexes, where the residents have little upkeep responsibility as they age.

“I’ve talked to some people that moved to Kingston. They said they really hate to leave Harriman,” Sampson said.

Economic development will also play a role in the city’s growth, and Sampson is hopeful about the Renaissance Festival and what it could do to draw people to the area.

He said the city also needs good-paying jobs to come into this  area.

“If we could swing this college to come in and buy the hospital, it will just about by itself redo downtown,” Sampson said. “There would be some pretty good jobs come in with it.”

Like his colleagues, he sees road repair as a dire need for the city.
Storm drains are also falling in because of an aging system.

Sampson thinks the city should try for a Community Development Block Grant, which is what Harriman Utility Board uses to do its sewer rehabilitation projects.

He notes infrastructure at Harriman Housing Authority is also in need of repair.

“We have to address that situation somehow,” Sampson said.

He’s also not given up on a remedy for Margrave Bridge, which was demolished by Norfolk Southern in 2011.

He wants to take the railroad company to task for that.

Sampson has seen a lot in his time in office, but he’d like to see what happens with many of the things carried through. He wants to see what the city can do under a city manager style of government.

“I’d like to stay long enough to make sure it works like it is supposed to work,” Sampson said.

Sampson is one of Harriman’s most outspoken officials of late.

From annexation, school districting and challenging the county on taxation, he doesn’t shy away from conflict.

He’s even challenged City Council to file suit a number of times, including on the city’s inability to annex down the Hwy. 70 corridor in Midtown.

Sampson said without the ability to annex commercial property in Midtown, the estimated $3 million investment Harriman made in the area will be mostly for naught. That figure excludes the utility work Harriman Utility Board has done with the plans for continued growth in the area.