Bristol

in 1912, the Norfolk and Western Railroad crossed State Street in front of the sign advertising Bristol VA TENN
in 1912, the Norfolk and Western Railroad crossed State Street in front of the sign advertising "Bristol VA TENN"
Source: Library of Congress, Aero view of Bristol, Va.=Tenn. 1912 (1891)

Bristol is a two-state city, with separate municipalities in Tennessee and Virginia. An 18th century wagon road, 19th century railroad, and 20th century I-81 cross the border there. The middle of State Street has been the state border since 1901, and wastewater is processed in a facility that is jointly owned by Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. Because the two cities share the same name, there is no Bristol High School; instead, there is a Virginnia High School north of the border and a Tennessee High School south of the state line.

The Cherokee controlled the area in the early 1700's, though the Iroquois asserted they had some rights south of the Ohio River. The first colonial settlers arrived before the Loyal Land Company obtained a grant for 800,000 acres in 1749 and Thomas Walker passed through Cumberland Gap in 1750. The French and Indian War deterred settlement after 1754, and the Proclamation of 1763 made it illegal to occupy lands in the watershed of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Treaty of Hard Labor in 1768 made some settlement legitimate west of the Blue Ridge and the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix eliminated the claims of the Iroquios, but the area around Bristol was still restricted to Native Americans by the Proclamation of 1763. The Treaty of Lochaber in 1770 finally authorized settlement at the current site of Bristol.

That 1770 treaty extended the Virginia-North Carolina boundary west to the Holston River, in a line surveyed by John Donelson in 1771 along the 36° 30' line of latitude. The site known variously as Big Meeting Camp, Sapling Grove, and Shelby's Fort - the future site of Bristol - was north of that boundary line. Other settlements south of the boundary concentrated at Watauga and negotiated a lease with the Cherokees to occupy that site.

In 1772, Virginia carved Fincastle County out of Botetourt County, but Colonel Richard Henderson and other speculators in the Transylvania Company tried to establish an independent state in 1775 after purchasing the Cherokee land claim in the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals. Virginia dissolved Fincastle County and created Washington County in 1776, and in 1779 Virginia and Carolina tasked commissioners/surveyors to define the boundary between the two newly-independent states.

When the Virginia and Tenneesee Railroad reached the area in 1856, the community on the Tennessee side of the boundary chose the name Bristol in hopes of mimicking the manufacturing center in England. Col. Samuel Eason Goodson started the community on the Virginia side. Goodson, Virginia changed its name to Bristol in 1890, and the city celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2015.

The joint slogan, "A Good Place To Live," was adopted in 1921 and is displayed on an illuminated State Street sign next to the train station. That slogan replaced "Push! That's Bristol," boosting the economic development that was underway. When lights burned out on the original sign, it occasionally displayed "PU_ _ That's Bristol," leading to mocking jokes.1

Bristol proudly advertises its location on the border
Bristol proudly advertises its location on the border
Source: Wikipedia, Bristol, Virginia

The city recognized early that it needed to make internet services available to improve its economic potential, but at the end of the 20th Century Bristol was too small of a market to attract the internet service providers.

To become "wired," Bristol officials planned, adapted, and then fought for the right to offer telecommunications as well as electricity, water, and sewer as a municipal service. Initially, the city built the infrastructure and laid fiber optic cable in 1999, with enough capacity to support both city agency and public use. Bristol planned for a private sector telecommunications company to use the city-installed capacity to provide "information superhighway" services.

However, no private sector company was willing to tackle the challenge. The 1996 Telecommunications Act limited the city's ability to compete with local telephone companies, but the city refused to be passive. Between favorable court rulings and laws passed by the General Assembly in 2002 and 2003, Bristol went where no one had gone before and ended up as the only municipality in Virginia authorized to provide voice, data, and cable ("triple play") services.2

BVU-OptiNet (the BVU stands for Bristol Virginia Utilities) was launched in 2003 as the "nation's first municipally owned fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband network offering voice, cable and data services." The city was awarded the "Gold Award for Municipal Excellence" from the National League of Cities in 2008. In 2009, Bristol was designated as one of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities of 2009.3

In 2018-2019, Bristol partnered with neighboring conmunities in Tennessee and Virginia to define how to rebrand the region, often described as the Tri-Cities for Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City. Local leaders, including major corporations such as Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, wanted to attract more people rather than passively watch the population to continue to decline.

The president of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce noted the advantage of wider regional cooperation:4

We can all go out and compete for business relocation and business expansion. Individually, we have our own strengths and weaknesses, but collectively, as a region - from a population base, from an asset base and tourism - we have a much bigger bat to swing when you're trying to get businesses' attention to come here.

in 1963, before I-81 was built, Route 11 was the main north-south road through Bristol
in 1963, before I-81 was built, Route 11 was the main north-south road through Bristol
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS) Johnson City 1x2 grid (1963)

The Bristol Chamber of Commerce highlights how the two cities cooperate rather than compete, claiming:5

To most people, the state line does not exist... People flow freely from state to state unaware that they're in a totally different municipality.

Both Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee contribute funding to three non-profits that attract tourists: Believe in Bristol group applying the Main Street Approach for downtown revitalization, the "Discover Bristol" efforts of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum:6

Recipient
Believe in Bristol
Birthplace of Country Music
Discover Bristol
Bristol, VA contribution (FY19-20)
$20,000
$5,000
$125,000
Bristol, TN contribution (FY19-20)
$50,000
$30,000
$170,000

Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia both contribute funding to the non-profit Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia both contribute funding to the non-profit Birthplace of Country Music Museum
Source: Birthplace of Country Music Museum

In 2019, the City Council in Tennessee suggested revising the funding formula based on population. Since there were 16,482 residents in the Virginia Bristol and 26,881 residents in the Tennessee Bristol in 2018, the Tennessee city was contributing a higher percentage of the subsidies.

The Tennessee side proposed that each city should contribute an equal share of hotel occupancy taxes. That approach would rebalance the formula based more on economic activity generated by tourism than population. However, Bristol Virginia collected significantly more in hotel occupancy taxes, so the new formula would require the Virginia side to become the primary funder for those non-profits. As an alternative, Tennessee officials also proposed that each city contribute the same amount of money, creating a 50-50 formula.7

Bristol was authorized by the 2020 General Assembly to hold a referendum to permit opening of a casino. The project was viewed as the key to restoring the city's economic viability, raising tax revenues by as much as 50% by some estimates. The planned Hard Rock Bristol Casino and Resort claimed it could bring in visitors from outside the city, increasing tax revenues rather than just redistributing entertainment expenditures by local residents. Restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other local businesses would see a boost in their revenues. Bristol would see a boost in revenues from existing city taxes on meals, lodging, amusements, and other sales.

City officials and local investors partnered with four other economically-distressed cities in Virginia to get the necessary legislation through the General Assembly. A special provision required that Bristol share its gaming tax revenues (but not other tax revenues) with 12 nearby counties. The creation of the Regional Improvement Commission, which was expected to provide as much as $600,000 annually to each county, enhanced support for the casino legislation from state legislators in Southwest Virginia.8

"The Falls" Project on I-81 in Bristol

Native American Gaming and Casino Gambling in Virginia

Virginia-Tennessee Boundary

new tax revenue generated by the Hard Rock Bristol Casino and Resort was expected to help Bristol repay its debt and increase services
new tax revenue generated by the Hard Rock Bristol Casino and Resort was expected to help Bristol repay its debt and increase services
Source: Bristol Casino Resort

Links

Bristol, Virginia

References

1. Cathy Summerlin, Traveling Tennessee: A Complete Tour Guide to the Volunteer State from the Highlands of the Smoky Mountains to the Banks of the Mississippi River, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1999, p.19, https://books.google.com/books?id=hJjBiE-DYQwC; "125th anniversary celebration planned Thursday night at Bristol train station," Bristol Herald Courier, February 9, 2015, http://www.tricities.com/news/article_bce6f0a2-b0d2-11e4-8861-ebdf3c69e243.html; "Heads in Virginia, Feet in Tennessee: Bristol," Virginia Living, June 17, 2009, http://www.virginialiving.com/travel/bristol-heads-in-virginia-feet-in-tennessee/ (last checked January 17, 2020)
2."Birthplace of FTTP - Bristol, Va.: Muni Fiber Pioneer," Last Mile Online, Aug 17, 2007, http://www.lastmileonline.com/index/webapp-stories-action?id=103&archive=yes&Issue=2007-07-01 (last checked March 30, 2009)
3. "Bristol Virginia Captures National League of Cities Gold Award," Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU), http://www.bvu-optinet.com/templates/default.php?purl=news_nlc_award&turl=inside_3col_std_template.htm; "Municipal Broadband Efforts Succeed Despite Wi-Fi Meltdown," Government Technology, April 27, 2009, http://www.govtech.com/pcio/Municipal-Broadband-Efforts-Succeed-Despite-Wi-Fi.html (last checked March 30, 2009)
4. "Group promotes effort to rebrand the region," Bristol Herald Courier, May 9, 2019, https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/group-promotes-effort-to-rebrand-the-region/article_29d38b82-eae5-5449-96cc-ece32ebb201d.html (last checked May 9, 2019)
5. "Heads in Virginia, Feet in Tennessee: Bristol," Virginia Living, June 17, 2009, http://www.virginialiving.com/travel/bristol-heads-in-virginia-feet-in-tennessee/ (last checked January 17, 2020)
6 "Bristol Tennessee, Virginia city councils clash on tourism funding formula," Bristol Herald Courier, January 13, 2020, https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/bristol-tennessee-virginia-city-councils-clash-on-tourism-funding-formula/article_b477834d-24b8-5b78-97f9-9465894ed009.html (last checked January 15, 2020)
7. "City Council frustrated over shared tourism dollars," Bristol Herald Courier, December 18, 2019, https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/city-council-frustrated-over-shared-tourism-dollars/article_0222cb86-3992-54c5-b62b-fb32ead593fc.html; "QuickFacts: Bristol city, Virginia; Bristol city, Tennessee; United States," Bureau of Census, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/bristolcityvirginia,bristolcitytennessee,US/PST045218 (last checked December 18, 2019)
8. "Existing taxes, not gaming tax revenue, would bolster Bristol," Bristol Herald Courier, April 25, 2020, https://www.heraldcourier.com/news/local/existing-taxes-not-gaming-tax-revenue-would-bolster-bristol/article_79e225c6-8e8f-5363-a75f-3139626bb161.html (last checked April 27, 2020)

with the arrival of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, Bristol became a railroad town
with the arrival of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, Bristol became a railroad town
Source: University of North Carolina, The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland (1875)


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