Alcoa West Plant property development seen as a ‘Downtown Alcoa’

Alcoa is one step closer to having a downtown with the finalization of the purchase by Kinsey Probasco and Hayes and International Risk Group of the West Plant property from Alcoa, Inc.

Principle Jon Kinsey of KPH said the final sale price, which was not disclosed, is something they will pay for over time. “It can’t be determined at this time. Build-out of the property will be in excess of $500 million,” he said.

It will take at least 10 years for build-out the 363 acre site. When asked how many people would ultimately be employed, Kinsey said, “a lot, certainly thousands.”

The former Chattanooga mayor said first construction would like take place just off Hall Road. “I’m convinced had this property been available over the last 10 years, it would have been developed haphazardly,” he said. “The opportunity we have is we can start with a blank sheet of paper.”

Kinsey said there a myriad of things that must be done before breaking ground. “We have to get zoning down and do that in phases,” he said. “This is the beginning of the journey.”

Mark Johnson, Alcoa city manager, said when the aluminum company designed the town around the plants in the early 20th century, there was residential development, a small amount of commercial development, schools and places of worship. “There was no need for a downtown,” he said. “In some respects, we now have this opportunity to finally build a downtown. I’ve been involved in helping design a lot of stuff in 35 years but this is the first time we’ll be able to participate or lend influence in designing a city. We have a blank sheet of paper here.”

Johnson said today is a major day for the city. “We’ve been looking at this property since I’ve been with the city -- 10 years -- and my predecessor did, too, in order to find out what would be the best use and when would it be available,” he said. “I want to thank the aluminum company for all their diligent efforts and work toward putting this property out so it can be used to its full potential. I don’t think the aluminum company could have picked a better team.”

Johnson said the site has potential. It is located just off Hall Road and adjacent to Alcoa Highway and the McGhee Tyson Airport which could also make it a possible site for a light rail system to downtown Knoxville to the airport.

“You just can’t beat it,” Johnson said. “The economic impact is going to be phenomenal. It’s going to take time.”

Johnson described the plan for developing the property as new urbanism. “It’s a term we like to use that basically describes building a new city,” he said.

The city manager said that while neighborhoods will continue to be built using half acre lots, more people are seeking to live in urban areas where they can walk and use automobiles less. In addition, if light rail one day connects the airport to downtown Knoxville, the new development will be connected to it.

“Overall, it’s going to be Alcoa’s downtown,” he said.

Kinsey said the pace of development will be dependent on the market and that the sour economy will improve. “It’s not going to be like this forever,” he said. “This is going to be done right. The timing of when we bring everything out is dependent on the market. We know it is at least a 10-year project.”

The former Chattanooga mayor said he and his associates have been speaking with the Alcoa school system, the Alcoa planning commission and city officials to determine what should be on the site. “We’re going to encourage a pedestrian-oriented environment, perhaps with the opportunity to live, work, worship and play there. We see this as a city.”

Kinsey said the estimated cost for building out the project is $500 million. “We’re not going to have that built out in five years,” he said. “By the time this is finished, without inflation and with residential, office, hotels, medical (components), the cost in today’s dollar will be over 500 million.”

Mikk Anderson, a principle in International Risk Group out of Littleton, Col., said the plan gives the city of Alcoa a legitimate downtown. “What will really look different in the City of Alcoa is it will make Alcoa a much more self-contained location to live, work and play in with less of a sense of being a suburb or mill town.”

Regarding any kind of brownfield or contamination from when the site was used by Alcoa, Inc., Anderson said the aluminum company did a good job of cleaning up the property. Any places where polluted soil is found will be developed around, he said.

“We’ll isolate those in a couple spots. They’ll be capped and covered up and used as parking lots,” Anderson said.

Kinsey was optimistic about the site’s future. “I don’t see any unique challenges, just unique opportunities,” he said.

Kinsey cited the transportation infrastructure, quality school system, proximity to the Greenway, the airport and potential to be connected to a regional light rail line as opportunities. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I’ve done lots of work in downtowns, but I have never built a downtown.”

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