Seeds of Progress

Research & development park shows growth from farm to future

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

The rolling hills of Jackson Farm will grow technology and plant $1 billion in economic impact based on plans for the Pellissippi Research Center Development, a 450-acre technology park in east Blount County. On March 22, the communities closest to
the development were invited to take a look at the future.

The technology park is a joint project of Blount County, Alcoa, Maryville and Knox County. Developer Mike Ross and the Blount County Economic Development Board are also associated with the project, which is intended to create more than $1 billion in economic impact. The development is at the intersection of Old Knoxville Highway and the Pellissippi Parkway extension.

Each of the four governments has kicked in $5 million to cover the park’s initial development costs. The governments are to share the property taxes generated by the park’s development.

On March 22, an open house at the Blount County Chamber of Commerce showcased park plans to the public. As residents
from Jackson Hills and Edgewood Acres subdivisions and surrounding areas perused plans and drawings, they saw high-rise condominiums, a hotel, cinema, restaurants along a canal, plots for research firms and space for retail development.

Most of the questions, however, concerned the roads. In the proposed park, the Pellissippi Parkway extension is completed through the development, with part of the highway sunken below East Broadway Avenue and part going underneath a "lid" where four office towers are planned.

Alcoa Assistant City Manager Bill Hammon said planners are tying up loose ends through the month of March regarding the concept plan. After that, they start working on guidelines for the park relative to buildings on site, landscaping and how all facilities in the park will relate to each other.

"I want to make one point clear," said Hammon. "We’re not talking of doing something where everybody looks the same. It’s a series of guidelines where there’s a common theme, but each business owner wants to have something unique. If someone wants a three-sided building versus a box, we’re not trying to do anything to limit the creative personality of each individual building owner."

Hammon the guidelines will ensure the continuity of theme in the commercial, research and development and residential areas to where it looks as if they’re designed to work together. "We’ll try to use native East Tennessee rock, native East Tennessee landscaping materials with trees and material to where it blends in and reflects East Tennessee," he said.

Hammon said that finalizing the concept plan will run through the summer. "Concurrently, we’re working with a consultant who is helping on the marketing phase to get the office, retail and residential lined up so we can start marketing that and throw that out to a bigger audience than the local Knox County metro market," he said.

Hammon said they hope that by spring of 2008, workers can start building the first phase of civil engineering at the entrance onto East Broadway Avenue. "We’ll start with basic roads and utilities and then potentially we could start putting in roads and utilities and do initial construction of first phase by this time next year," he said.

"We’re just trying right now to be very thoughtful and deliberate in how we put this together," he said. "Then well start seeing success in development next summer, have construction projects underway, and, if we’re successful in taking advantage of funding resources, we’ll expand infrastructure, which makes more property available."

Hammon said it’s going to take three to five years to get through the initial design and get construction started in order to have a handle on Phase I. "Four or five years into the project, we’ll have a sense of what Phase I is going to look like. I’m hopeful it will be picking up momentum," he said. "We’re looking at a 20-year build-out. We’re not looking to get everything done in the first three years. It will be a slow and mature process to get everything done."

‘Kicking the tires’
Hammon said the research and development park will come on-line as part of the first phase.

"R and D is the largest use of the whole park. When we put the first roads in for Phase I, there will be property for R and D," he said. "The residential piece probably won’t happen until we find a developer who wants to come in and start condos. R and D should be one of first things out of the box."

Although the only tenant signed on currently is Molecular Pathology Laboratories, both Economic Development Board Vice President Bryan Daniels and Hammon acknowledged there are good prospects who are "kicking the tires," said Hammon.

Daniels said there has been interest from people they’ve spoken with about the park. "There has been a lot of activity, especially with the master plan being approved," he said. "We are still in a mode of not wanting to negotiate a project until the design guidelines have been developed that will ensure continuity and longevity to the park."

Daniels said there probably won’t be any deals announced until those guidelines are developed and passed by the industrial board. "We’re thinking, hopefully, sometime in the June - July timeframe to have those in place," he said.

C2RL, Inc., owned by Chris Soro, is the civil engineering firm for the project. Phase I will include building a boulevard in two areas on the north and south sides of the park where Pellissippi Parkway comes through and then a connector between these two. This will open up the area to retail development.

"As retail develops, the residential component will come around," said Soro. "A lot is going to depend on the market work that gets done."

Rick Hill with Village Solutions of Lexington, Ky., is analyzing the space and presenting it to retailers. "There will be 1.2 million square feet of retail space," said Soro. "Rick is basically going to be the guy who will have the opportunity to take this plan and market it to some of the very largest retailers in the United States."

Soro said Hill will present the plan to retailers at a convention in about 30 to 45 days. "We’ll see the result of that and that will be driver," Soro said.

Soro said the first retail revenues should be generated in 2011 at about the same time as the first residential sites come on line.

"We think that’s going to be a very important component to this," he said. "I’d like to see us building residential in 2010 and in market by 2011."

On the shorter end of the spectrum, Soro said that the parks first tenant, Molecular Pathology, should being construction within the next two years. "I think we have property that is going to be so exciting and with the ties this project has to the Oak Ridge Technology Corridor and the Oak Ridge lab and the other resources here, it can’t help but go quickly," he said of development.

Community questions
Soro manned a table at the open house held March 22 at the Chamber of Commerce and he said people at his table were concerned about traffic generation. "But in terms of the quality of the development and the thought of actually taking Pellissippi Parkway putting it below ground as opposed to having it sit up above ground, both were received very, very well.

I was happy about that," he said.

Alcoa City Manager Mark Johnson said motorists turning into and out of Jackson Hills subdivision will get some relief from the current traffic congestion caused in part by vehicles coming off Pellissippi Parkway. The city will cut Jackson Hills Drive off from East Broadway with a cul-de-sac, explained Johnson. Traffic from the subdivision will then be diverted down a new road that will connect onto the four lane boulevard that runs through the research and development park to East Broadway Avenue.

Johnson said traffic will be controlled there by a traffic light. This will allow motorists coming from Jackson Hills to get on East Broadway Avenue easier, Soro said.

"We could see a better situation for those people in Jackson Hills. They have no signalized protection," Soro said. "I have a feeling when everything is said and done, their situation is going to be improved. It will be engineered as opposed to just happening as it is now."

Regarding Pellissippi Parkway, Hammon said the highway would be sunken just past the Pistol Creek Bridge, go underneath East Broadway Avenue and be sunken or depressed as it goes underneath a "lid" which would hold four office towers. From there it would rise back up to ground level before going into a tunnel at the other end of the park. Sinking the highway would be more aesthetically pleasing and also would serve as a sound buffer for the traffic, he said.

Hammon said that between 400 and 600 condominium units could be built in the residential sections of the park. "What’s going to drive that is how tall they are," he said.

Hammon said another aspect of the park will be a berm that will separate the park from its residential neighbors. Drawings also showed a walking trail and trees on either side of the berm.

"We’re trying to be sensitive to the property owners adjacent the park. The park will be a good neighbor," Hammon said.

Hammon said it has taken a lot of time to develop the plans that include plenty of green space and are environmentally friendly. Another aspect of the development will include building a canal that will be bordered by stores and restaurants.

Storm water will divert to the canal, he said.

Citizens had many questions at the open house. Una Teffeteller said her main concern is traffic. "I’m very concerned about what this is going to add," in terms of traffic congestion.

"I think it would be nice if we don’t have a bottleneck," Charles Teffeteller said.

County Commissioner Steve Samples said he was pleasantly surprised at the amount of planning that has gone into the park project so far. "It looks very attractive. I want to hear from people in my district, what they feel about it," he said of residents near the park. "It’s right in their back door."

Samples liked the plan to lower the level of Pellissippi Parkway so that it runs underneath part of the park instead of above it. "I think that’s a good idea," he said.

Paul Michael of Dorothy Drive in Edgewood Acres was concerned about the new development cropping up near his house. "I’d like to know how it’s going to impact me," he said. "I’m 77 years old. I hate to start over. I’d like to know what their plans are for my subdivision."

Paul Vickers of Jackson Hills Drive joked that the park had every amenity, and it was going to be in his back yard. "Where are they going to put the Wal-Mart?" he asked with a laugh.

Scott Davis lives on Panoscenic Drive in Maryville, but his parents still live in Jackson Hills, and he stopped by to see how it would affect them. "I guess if you live in Jackson Hills, it’s going to look a whole lot different," he said of the view from the subdivision where now people only see pasture.

Jeff Smith brought his wife Dana and their sons Rowan and Noah to the reception to check out plans for the park. "We just bought a house, and we’ve only been in it for a couple of months. We wanted to see how our view is going to change.

Hopefully it will be pretty," he said. "Coming from out of state, what we came for was the view, but it will be great for property values."

Maryville attorney Gerald Russell lives at the edge of Jackson Hills. "I wanted to see what was bordering my property," he said.

Russell said he didn’t know how the new park would affect property values. He also was concerned about traffic. "I don’t think it will affect our traffic on Jackson Hills," he said.

Dr. Paul Hoffmann, Jackson Hills Drive, Maryville, has lived in the neighborhood near the new park for 30 years. Hoffmann said the park may not make his property more valuable. "They assume my property value will go up," he said. "I’m not sure it will."

"I think the whole thing is pretty pretentious for Maryville with high rise hotels, but who knows?" he said. "How can they predict the economy will be strong enough to support that?"

Hoffmann said it would have been nice if the state had finished the Pellissippi Parkway extension to East Lamar Alexander Parkway before building the park. The park and the extension are two separate projects and the parkway extension construction is on hold pending an environmental impact statement.

Hammon said the state is going through an environmental impact study on the Pellissippi Parkway extension to East Lamar Alexander Parkway. "We feel it’s certainly a better fit if it is extended, but if we had to do something different, we could still
make most of this work. We feel pretty strong the parkway needs to be extended though," he said.

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