Deal may revive stalled Dumplin Creek development

Mar. 15, 2013 @ 10:53 AM

A long-awaited development along Interstate 40 could be getting new life after potential buyers have started negotiations with investors who had sued developer John Turley over the Dumplin Creek property.

In a press release issued Thursday, Mike Cohen of Cohen Communications Group announced that Neyland Land Associates is purchasing the 200-acre development once spearheaded by Turley, who was also behind the Turkey Creek development in Knoxville. The group is led by the father-and-son duo of Joe Fielden and Joe Fielden Jr.

“While we still have a period of due diligence to go through, we have reached a preliminary agreement with the parties who currently control the property,” Fielden Jr. said in prepared remarks. “This is a great piece of property with huge potential and we are anxious to get started.”

Dumplin Creek was last in the news when Sevier County Bank and other investors sued Turley’s company, Kodak Land Co. LLC., for $25 million and interest for loans they had provided. At the time, the banks had not foreclosed on the property. The release does not say whether the land was purchased from Turley or the banks.

Turley’s real estate company, First Commercial, did not respond to requests for comment. A Dumplin Creek link still appears on the company’s website, but that link does not appear to work any more.

The Neyland group is once again raising the possibility of the city helping to finance a new road that would serve the development by connecting Highway 66 to Bryan Road along the interstate. “The proposed road is part of a larger plan to add a future interchange at Bryan Road (Exit 408), and widen Bryan Road over to Douglas Dam Road,” Cohen said in the release.

“The state has said it would then widen Douglas Dam Road to State Route 66, providing a much-needed second entrance into Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Long-term plans call for eventually extending Bryan Road south across the French Broad River to connect with an extended Veterans Boulevard.”

Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said Thursday afternoon he was not aware of those plans, but would talk to department officials about the matter and could have more information Friday.

The group is asking the city to consider applying to TDOT for grants that would help to pay for the connector road. The city would ask for two Local Intestate Connection grants of $2 million each, which the Board of Mayor and Aldermen would have to agree to match.

The board is set to consider the matter at a workshop starting at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Civic Center. The agenda for the board’s regular meeting, which follows at 7 p.m., has not yet been announced.

The news release included a statement from Sevierville Administrator Russell Treadway: “This development will be a great addition to our Tourism Development Zone and will further enhance Sevierville’s reputation as the premier retail center in Sevier County,” he said.

If the city applies for the grants and new issues come up, the city would have the chance to withdraw the request, he said. It would only require a commitment of taxpayer funds if the project moves ahead.

Turley made a similar request at one point for his development, but asked the city to pay more than $8 million for the road.

The initial transaction is apparently between Neyland and the banks that held the notes on the $25 million loan.

Clay Harris of Sevier County Bank said they have been negotiating with Neyland Land Associates for some time.

“It has not been put to ink yet. We feel pretty confident that it’s heading that way ... I think one of the contingencies is how they do with the (Board of Mayor and Aldermen) meeting on the 18th to be honest with you.”

However, he said the bank has not foreclosed on the property and it is still in the name of Turley’s company.

In an email exchange, Cohen said they would acquire the property immediately after obtaining the loan documents.

If the board and state approve the grants, the road is expected to take about a year to complete.

The project would be overseen by the city, and the work would be bid out to contractors.

Dumplin Creek was once the source of considerable optimism in the city; Turley had announced a preliminary contract with Walmart and had said he believed the overall development could bring 1,000 jobs to the area when it was finished.

He had planned to have a mixed-use development that was similar to his Turkey Creek project in West Knoxville, although on a smaller scale. It was expected to include a theater, restaurants and several larger chain stores as well as smaller shops.