City council candidates face off in Bristol, Virginia

BRISTOL, Va. - Five candidates for Bristol Virginia City Council faced off Thursday night, debating major issues like The Falls project.

Incumbents Jim Steele, Don Ashley and Ed Harlow will compete against newcomers Archie Hubbard and Bill Hartley for three seats on the council.

Election Day is May 6. Steele, Ashley, Harlow and Hartley will all be listed on the ballot. Hubbard is a write-in candidate so voters will need to write his name on the ballot in order to elect him.

The first question asked of the candidates on Thursday night was how they think The Falls project should move forward.

Hubbard, a former BVU chairman and retired treasurer for Goodpasture Motor Company, told us he'll bring a critical eye to the project. "I want to look at all of the contracts," Hubbard said. "I've never read a contract that I didn't want to change because something in it wasn't in my favor. I don't feel like there's been enough of that."

Fellow challenger Hartley also hopes to use his own business background to get the project back on track. Hartley is a grants coordinator at ETSU and former executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. "Having dealt with multiple projects, some of which range in millions of dollars, I'm very familiar with project management and how to keep a project on time, on budget and on schedule," he said.

The incumbents stood by their progress with The Falls development, and said it will be a success. "Twenty-thousand new jobs is what The Falls will generate when all five phases are done," said incumbent Don Ashley. "The revenue that will come from The Falls will set the city up from the year 2020 going forward."

Fellow Councilman Harlow told us their work over the last four years can also be seen downtown. Harlow pointed to the upcoming construction on The Sessions Hotel and the work already being done on Quaker Steak and Lube. "The hotel is the final piece of the puzzle for downtown," said Harlow. "It's something that we have really had as a goal for a long time, and the fact that it's now becoming a reality is probably one of the most exciting things that's happened to downtown in a long time."

Councilman Jim Steele told us he hopes to continue that progress with additional projects. "I want something to develop with the Executive Plaza next to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum,"said Steele. "That's going to be about $13 million and that's going to bring big tourism to the city."

Hartley, Ashley and Harlow were also asked whether or not they think the city has done enough to help Virginia Intermont College. 

Hartley said he wasn't sure what could be done before the school loses it's accreditation in two months. Ashley revealed that the council will talk with the college's president this week to come up with possible solutions. Harlow said they are limited because the school is a private entity.

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