Tale of two cities -- and two counties

Maryville, Alcoa, Blount, Knox officially break ground at Pellissippi Place

When one of the organizers of the groundbreaking for the new research and development park named Pellissippi Place surveyed the site a week before the official groundbreaking ceremony, there was green grass and little dust.

A week later, the site was dusty and flat and looked even more beautiful to the more than 100 people gathered to celebrate what they hope will be an economic plus to two cities and two counties -- and all who live near them.

Ceremonially turning the shovels of dirt on the site at the old Jackson Farm, mayors, vice-mayors, board members, economic development heads and chamber CEOs applauded the forward-thinkers and ideas that have led to Pellissippi Place and the cooperation across county lines that is making it possible.

The idea for building a high tech research and development park came about eight years ago, Economic Development Board member Joe Dawson told the crowd gathered on Nov. 5 to break ground on Pellissippi Place.

“We birthed the idea of a tech park,” he said. “We had meetings with Alcoa and Blount County and laid out our plans, and then we looked for other partners.

The collaborative research and development park broke ground officially on the Oak Ridge Corridor is being developed as a first-of-its-kind partnership among four governments. Dawson said there are 455 acres already a part of Pellissippi Place and another 200 acres across the street that can be available.

U.S. Rep. John Duncan, Jr., praised the people responsible for starting the park and said it was another significant future development to allow young people to get good paying jobs at home after graduation.

“This is a landmark day for Blount and Knox,” Duncan said.

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale joined the Blount mayors in celebrating the historic occasion. “The partnership is unique in bringing together stakeholders who understand the value of regional economic development,” said Ragsdale.

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham agreed and added, “By creating such an attractive venue for research and development firms, we are greatly enhancing the benefit each of our communities will receive. The competition for research and development firms is intense across the country. It’s imperative to present a unified front and market the expertise and quality of life this region has to offer.”

The current climate of uncertain economic conditions wasn’t ignored by those gathered to officially kick off the research park.

“Pellissippi Place represents the most significant economic development investment in decades,” said Dawson. “With the global economy undergoing a transition, U.S. manufacturing jobs will continue to decline. If we want to ensure the future of our communities, we have to prepare for the increasing focus on technology.”

“With the Department of Energy laboratories just a few minutes down the road, a ten-minute drive to the regional airport and excellent Interstate road infrastructure, Pellissippi Place is uniquely positioned for high tech companies,” said Maryville Mayor Joe Swann. “As a region, this project illustrates that we are committed to research and development in our community.”

Pellissippi Place is being developed on a 450-acre tract of land where Pellissippi Parkway (I-140) intersects with Old Knoxville Highway (S.R. 33).

The groundbreaking ceremony launches the first construction phase of the project, which consists of realigning Clayton Road and building the main boulevard to open 100 acres for technology companies. Additional improvements by the Tennessee Department of Transportation will expand S.R. 33 from two lanes to four from Hunt Road to Sam Houston Road.

The entire park plan includes a festive retail corridor settled along a river walk. Mixed-use space will be available for residential and professional office linked by an expansive pedestrian walkway. “The idea is to create a community,” said Alcoa Mayor Don Mull. “Traditionally, economic development separates industry from the rest of the community. While that’s desirable in some industries, it’s not necessarily true for R & D. Research indicates that high-tech professionals want to be close to entertainment, restaurants and shopping.”

The business and research component of Pellissippi Place is projected to open in 2010. Subsequent development phases have the capacity to handle up to 100 merchants, six restaurants and a 14-screen cinema among more than one million square feet of retail space. The project design includes professional office and space for a hotel.

Residential plans call for construction of upscale loft condominiums. Design guidelines and building covenants will ensure the integrity of the entire campus. The development is LEED certified, which requires all developers and contractors to following sustainable green building guidelines recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council.

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