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Editorial: Reclaiming old industrial land a boon for the city
Knoxville News Sentinel Editorial Board | June 21, 2012
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero's administration is taking concrete steps toward rehabilitating Knoxville's core industrial and residential areas, a welcome development that should pay dividends over the long haul.
The city of Knoxville politically won't expand through annexation because of political reasons, so redevelopment of existing property will be a key for future economic growth. Rogero is taking a logical, pragmatic approach toward increasing the tax base, primarily through the creation of an environment for economic expansion.
As a first step, the administration is looking at some abandoned or underused industrial sites along the Interstate 275 corridor, which runs alongside the freeway north of downtown. Dubbed the Downtown North I-275 Redevelopment Area, the section of town contains property ideal for industrial use but that has fallen on hard times.
There already are signs of revival, however, and the city is wise to take advantage of programs that will help spur development there. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided $400,000 in grant money to assess environmental conditions at properties in the redevelopment area. That will help property owners know their responsibilities and potential investors know what to expect in projects that might move forward within the area.
The city is also beginning to develop plans for a new road that would run along I-275 that would improve commercial traffic access to industries that are in the area.
Redevelopment already is occurring in the Downtown North area. Holston Gases is revamping the ole Brookside Mills site — a 19.5-acre parcel northeast of the intersection of Baxter and Interstate 275 — for $1.8 million. The company is developing an office complex, gas-pumping facility and warehouse on the brownfield site, and plans to create 20 to 30 new jobs in the process.
A similar reuse project was launched earlier this year, when a development group that includes Budd Cullom, Jim Harrison and Mike McGuffin announced plans for a retail project called University Commons on the former Fulton Bellows site, near the University of Tennessee campus. That project is slated to include a Walmart store and a Publix grocery.
That project would refashion a former industrial site for retail use more in keeping with the surrounding area.
The Rogero administration's brownfield redevelopment initiative works hand in glove with the city's commitment to transform blight in residential and commercial areas to productive uses. The administration had hired consultants Alan Mallach and Kim Graziani of the Center for Community Progress, a national firm that helps guide municipalities in dealing with blight, a good move bringing in expertise to improve the city's efforts.
Knoxville must grow in order to improve the quality of life for all residents, and redeveloping existing property is the smart way to go.