As development of Pellissippi Place begins to clear a couple of major hurdles this year, business leaders already are looking a generation ahead in planning.
When Knox and Blount counties began working with the cities of Maryville and Alcoa on a second generation technology park in the early 2000s, following up on Stock Creek Development Technology Park, they knew tech parks typically take half a century or more to build out.
“This one had some challenges right out of the gate,” said Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Partnership.
When the Economic Development Board of the Blount Partnership acquired the 450 acres from real estate developer Mike Ross for Pellissippi Place, the deal included giving him the right of first refusal to develop the commercial and residential sections. Bankruptcy proceedings involving him and then a dispute between two creditors tied up that section of Pellissippi Place for a decade, until the Industrial Development Board reached a deal this January, paying one a little more than half a million dollars and trading about 20 acres in the back section along Wildwood Road to the other.
The current goal is to break ground in the third quarter this year on a Pellissippi Place project that combines commercial and residential development, retail on the ground floor and condominiums above. “We’re going to address housing with our first projects,” Daniels said this month.
The second hurdle is the realignment of the planned Pellissippi Parkway extension, which always was expected to take a large swath out of the land. However, the Tennessee Department of Transportation changed the design after infrastructure was installed for the technology section of Pellissippi Place, Daniels explained. “It’s exactly where the interstate’s going.”
TDOT soon is expected to begin right-of-way acquisition for the project, which Daniels expects to pay for the work already done and a new master plan. “Until they can get to right-of-way acquisition and pay us for the damages, we’re stuck,” he said. The commercial and residential section will be served by utilities coming off Tennessee Route 33, Old Knoxville Highway.
Daniels said new appraisals have been ordered this month to bring cost estimates up to date with current land values.
“There’s a lot of money spent developing those sites that are now cannibalized,” he said.
The next industrial park
Most other Blount County industrial parks are about full.
The addition of Smith & Wesson, expected to open in the summer of 2023 will fill Partnership Park North, and Daniels expects Partnership Park South to reach 95% full this year. Opened in 1969, Blount County Industrial Park is full, Big Springs is at 98% and Stock Creek at 97%, according to Daniels.
During an April 1 presentation for the IDB to the Blount County Budget Committee, Daniels said the board is in “an acquisition mode and trying to plan for the next generation of folks behind me that would be in these leadership roles.”
“We’re beginning to look on our corridor of where our infrastructure’s at, where could we assemble some additional property not to be developed out immediately,” Daniels told the Budget Committee. “This is going to take some time, but we are beginning to have those discussions of where does it make sense, where is it in the urban growth boundaries where we’re looking and predominantly along the four lanes.”
In a later interview with The Daily Times, he said, “We’re targeting along (U.S.) 321, not toward the mountains but toward Lenoir City for our efforts.”
To make development of a new industrial park worthwhile, Daniels said it would need to be more than 200 acres and off a four-lane road.
Expanding existing parks is an option too, but residential development already has taken up space there.
Daniels said businesses are cyclical, expanding, growing decreasing and going away.
“Everything has a life cycle, and we’re always trying to think through what the next economies and companies are, and we’re trying to be very judicious in targeting companies that have opportunities that we don’t have here right now,” he said.
“The community is not going to stop growing,” he said, but the business parks can define where the businesses will be.
What do you want?
At the Budget Committee workshop Daniels noted that the IDB develops properties only that are in the urban growth boundaries.
“We have seen what’s been playing out with the narrative in the community,” he told the committee. “We do feel like it’s smart that the county looks at zoning for the rural areas and trying to figure out what we want the community to look like.”
“You can choose what you want to be. Do you want to be anywhere USA or do you want to be make it unique to what we have here in the Smoky Mountains? So we applaud and support that whole narrative of really taking a look at where do we want these developments to occur, because they’re going to occur,” Daniels said, adding that people are moving to Blount County for a variety of reasons.
“I would encourage the county to have those discussions of what do we want our rural areas to be like,” he said, “The urban areas, just know that if you do shrink that you’re only limiting yourself for that amount of space, and as the population grows is that going to be enough for your children or your children’s children.”
“We don’t have a position on what makes sense of this area should be urban or not urban. For us I will tell you that anything that’s got a four lane near it, that for us is prime real estate for our future,” Daniels said.
“Going out like Wilkinson Pike or toward the mountains or anything like that, no, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to encourage what we do out in those areas. We’re really looking at those major thoroughfares for what we do,” he told the Budget Committee.
“We’re not going to stay just a farming community,” he said, adding that he’s not promoting people giving up their farms. “Whether we do anything more or not there’s going to be a continued development of the area, and I think it’s the county’s role to have really those discussions on what do you want that to look like.”
Daniels often says that Blount County turns away more businesses than it brings in. “We don’t recruit smokestacks,” he said in the interview this month. “They’re not nuisances to the community.”
At the budget workshop Daniels said, “When it comes to the community, our goal has been to be the employment destination for the area. That’s what we want to be. We know that people aren’t all going to live in Blount County, nor have we ever had that assumption.”
Instead the assumption is people would commute in from the entire region — Loudon, Monroe, Sevier and Knox, all the way up to Campbell County, he told the Budget Committee.
“We’re seeing that. For us that’s a good thing, because they’ll utilize the services in the counties that they’re in,” he said. “That’s why we’re strategic in where we put our business parks, that they’re easily accessible to the main infrastructure we have.”
He told the Budget Committee that with activity over the past year or so, “You’ve got roughly half a billion — that’s with a B — dollars of capital investment that’s committed to be made and you see underway and under construction in our community.”
Daniels said that currently he thinks Blount County has a good mix of businesses. “The amount of revenue that they bring in and come back in taxes to our community helps us enjoy a high quality of life that a lot of communities would love to have,” he said in the interview.
“They pay a large part of the freight of living here,” he said, and they are engaged philanthropically in the community too. “This community wouldn’t stand for anything else,” Daniels said.