Arrowmont mediation shows progress

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

 While he can’t offer a lot of specifics due to a confidentiality agreement, developer Bob Bentz confirmed recently that mediation over the Arrowmont property downtown seems to be moving positively for all the parties and that he’s begun working on more detailed plans for the property.

Bentz is looking to acquire the campus, which is owned by the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, to build a retail complex. Arrowmont personnel and the school’s supporters have been working to keep at least part of the school downtown, with support from local officials.

All of those parties agreed to mediation by local attorney Pamela Reeves, but have not been disclosing much about the results of that process due to the confidentiality agreement.

However, some details have started to emerge as local government bodies have taken tentative actions in the last few weeks related to the negotiations.

The Sevier County School system agreed to swap property adjacent to the Arrowmont campus for land on the Pi Beta Phi Elementary School campus that had been owned by the fraternity. The school is named for the organization, but is part of the county’s public school system. The county had been paying a lease on the property owned by the fraternity, and school officials said Bentz had indicated he didn’t want to act as landlord to the schools.

This week, Gatlinburg City Commission voted to approve a $3.7 million bond that commissioners acknowledged would be used to help pay to keep part of Arrowmont downtown. Bentz has also asked the city to reduce a distance requirement in that area, dropping the required set-off between a school and an establishment selling liquor by the drink from 300 feet to 150 feet.

Bill May, executive director of Arrowmont, said this week that the school will have to raise additional funds, but the tentative agreement could leave the school in control of its own destiny.

Bentz confirmed that the agreement could lead to Arrowmont acquiring property where some of the campus sits, allowing at least part of the school to remain. “Eventually, the goal is for Arrowmont to acquire the property and Arrowmont is working toward that,” he said. “We want this to be win-win for everybody.”

In the meantime, Bentz said they’ve reached the point where he can start working on a more detailed and specific site plan for his property.

“It’s going to be a retail and restaurant complex,” he said.

It will be somewhat comparable to The Village shopping area on the Parkway, although not exactly the same, he said.

“With it being alongside Arrowmont we’ll have an arts and crafts feel,” he said.

That concept appealed to at least one Gatlinburg City Commissioner. Mike Werner said he thinks it could help draw foot traffic back to that part of downtown.

“It could stretch pedestrian traffic to that area,” he said.

While there’s been a recent flurry of activity with the mediation, officials have cautioned there are still terms that must be met or agreed upon before it is finalized. The parties are expected to meet again in January.

n jfarrell@themountainpress.com