That's what detractors are calling Pellissippi Place, a technology/R&D business park in Blount Co. On a tip from the Professor-in-law, who said we might see some deer or other wildlife, we went over there yesterday evening to look around and take Gracie for a walk.
The 450 acre development was first announced in May of 2006 as a mixed-use business, commercial, residential, and retail business park with upscale office, retail and residential components designed to attract companies involved in R&D and technology commercialization.
The project is a regional undertaking funded by Knox County, Blount County, and the cities of Maryville and Alcoa, who each put up $5 million. Rep. Jimmy Duncan also helped secure $2 million in federal funding.
At the time, Molecular Pathology Laboratory Network, Inc., a nationally known biotech company headquartered in Maryville, committed to be the first tenant with plans for a 75,000 sq. ft. facility.
Of course, a lot has changed since May of 2006. The financial meltdown and resulting credit crunch and recession put the brakes on most new commercial development.
And even before that, the project got off to a rocky start. Mike Ross of Rarity Properties and a local Maryville real estate broker had quietly assembled the parcels and sold the property to the government partnership for $10 million. This was all done "behind the scenes" before the project was announced with great fanfare. It has never been reported how much the sellers made on the deal.
Then, Rarity was supposed to build out the first phase consisting of condos and retail space. This never happened for reasons that should be obvious to anyone familiar with Rarity's woes.
Despite all that, the project went forward with groundbreaking in November 2008 and site work continued up until the official opening in September of 2010.
The Industrial Development Board of Blount County is the current owner. The Blount County Economic Development Board, an affiliate of the Blount IDB, will be the developer and the primary point of contact. The City of Alcoa will administer site planning and construction activities and provide utilities (including city water and sewer!).
MPLN still hopes to move in, but that could be years away depending on the economy. Local economic development officials are still optimistic. They would like to build a model office building to attract tenants ready to make a move, but there's no money in anyone's budget for that.
It's easy to criticize projects like this in these economic times. But a closer look at the master plan reveals exactly the kind of development we should be pursuing to lure the kinds of jobs we want in East Tennessee. Things will get better someday, and when they do this R&D park will be a diamond in the rough ready to be cut and polished, as long as they stick to the plan.
In the mean time, it's a nice place to go for a walk. You might even see a deer or other wildlife. In fact, if you look closely at a couple of the photos you'll see three deer that we spotted by following the fresh tracks.
It's also being used as the new entrance to the adjacent Jackson Hills neighborhood, so there's a surprising amount of traffic navigating the cool roundabout.
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