Land swap proposed

Property transfer could yield new building for highway department, more development near Hamilton Crossing

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

The Blount County Highway Department Superintendent Bill Dunlap has 11 people working out of a metal quansa hut just off
Louisville Road. He says he has long wanted a new facility, but, with so many needs in the county, he never asked.

The good news is, the county’s highway department building is now sitting on a piece of land that is highly desirable.

On Thursday, Oct. 19, Dunlap will ask the Blount County Commission to transfer the building to the Blount County Industrial Board. It is step one in a swap that is expected to yield the county a new $3.5 million highway department facility at no cost to taxpayers, plus, says Dunlap, "put 15 acres on the commercial tax rolls." As for the property where the new highway department building would sit, Alcoa has offered "a long-term, guaranteed renewable lease where they’re putting their
public works site at the old Vheechmay Lumber Co. on Bessemer Street," Dunlap said.

Jay Dunlap (no relation) is the developer who has sparked this process. Jay Dunlap has been developing Hamilton Crossing, the area adjacent to the highway building, behind Cracker Barrel. If the commission agreed to transfer the building to the Industrial Development Board, they could negotiate with Dunlap to close the deal.

Bill Dunlap said that the 15 acres in question where the highway department currently is located could accommodate 130,000 square feet of retail space with 500 parking spots. With sales tax dollars and commercial tax rates, Blount County education system could get between $500,000 and $750,000 in new money annually if the property became used for retail, he said.

Bill Dunlap said he will present the plan to the finance, public service and intergovernmental committees before presenting the proposal to the full commission on Oct. 19.

According to Bill Dunlap, developer Jay Dunlap approached the industrial development board two years ago about acquiring the land.

"He made offers, and the industrial development board refused," Bill Dunlap said. "A few weeks ago he made an offer to the industrial development board of $2 million for the property, and they rejected it but had a drawing of what we felt would meet our immediate needs officewise and future needs with the garage. Since he (Jay Dunlap) does building, the industrial development board asked if he would be willing to look and see if he could build it. It’s been projected what we would ask for would be 23,000 square feet, which would run $3 million to $3.5 million. Merit, his contractor, called, and we met a week and half ago, and he said he would build our facility to our specs (in exchange for the property)," he said.

Bill Dunlap said everything about the deal is still in the negotiation process until the commission votes on whether to approve the department relinquishing the property to the Industrial Development Board.

"All we’re going to be asking for is for them to let us go through the Industrial Development Board and let them take over the process," he said.

Bill Dunlap said he has spoken to each commissioner individually to let them know about the opportunity. Dunlap says he has worked at the highway department since 1980, and commercial development has continued to grow around the highway department building, which is a combination of offices and a garage for department vehicles.

"It’s time for us to leave," he said. "It (the property) is too valuable for it to be sitting there."

Bill Dunlap also said getting a new facility for the department is long over due. "There are 11 people working out of a metal quansa hut built by the CCC. That’s been one of my goals to put us in a new facility," he said. "Alcoa has offered us a long-
term, guaranteed renewable lease where they’re putting their public works site at the old Vheechmay Lumber Co. on
Bessemer Street."

For the deal to happen, the full commission has to give approval, then the highway department would go under contract with the Blount County Industrial Board. "The industrial board would take control, give us the right to stay there until our facility is built," he said. "Depending on how long it takes architectural drawings to be drawn would determine construction (schedule). If we got them done at the end of this year, early next, odds are we could be in it at the end of ‘07."

Bill Dunlap said he always considered the county’s bond debt when he thought about asking for funds for a new highway
department facility. "I’ve said all along we need something, but I will not put this county any deeper in bond debt," he said.
Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham was enthusiastic when asked about the new highway department facility. "When you have a new facility worth $3.5 million for the highway department at no cost to the taxpayers, it’s a wonderful
opportunity to come along," he said.

Cunningham said the sales taxes and commercial taxes also will put more money in the county coffers.

"We anticipate that deal will put another $1 million in sales taxes in the county coffers and that would be $350,000 in new money for schools," Cunningham said. "(The highway department) is also moving to property that is already off the tax
rolls, and we’re putting this property on the tax rolls."

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