City seems to like project proposal
After Neyland Associates, the new group pursuing the development of the long-dormant Dumplin Creek property along Interstate 40, presented plans to the Sevierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, Mayor Bryan Atchley asked whether aldermen had any questions. Everyone looked around; no one spoke.
"You've got to realize that some of the board members have been involved with this development as long as I have, so everybody knows about the project and the different retailers who have looked at it," Atchley said Tuesday. "It's not brand new. It has been looked at for some time.
"All we were doing (Monday) night was talking about applying for grants," Atchley added. "We're not spending any money yet. When it comes down to that, there will be more questions and reactions from the board members."
For now the aldermen are cautious but supportive, according to Atchley.
"We're not going to go running into it, but we're going to see if it's something that could happen, and it's a pretty positive outlook right now," Atchley said.
Vice Mayor Devin Koester feels good about what he's heard.
"I'm optimistic that this may be a win-win situation for getting the development going, and creating jobs, and getting a project that's been delayed and sitting there at the gates of Sevier County," Koester said Tuesday.
The original project at the site fell through when the previous developer was sued by Sevier County Bank for loans it had provided.
"In 2007 we were experiencing great growth, but when the banks got hit and the auto industry got hit, everything just dried up. Nobody was making money and no one wanted to build anything," Atchley said. "You had Starbucks shutting down, Home Depots closing. Things went backwards."
With the economy picking up, Koester said, "there seems to be a lot of positive activity with people looking to come to the area and start projects." Plus, he said, the city would be able to protect its investment.
"Right now what they're trying to do is get into a pool of state money that can only be accessed by a municipality asking for the money for an infrastructure-type situation," Koester said. "So we ask the state if they're willing to work with the grants, and if they're not, then we're not obligated to do anything."
Atchley noted that the original developer, John Turley, had inopportune timing.
"I fully believe the last development would have worked had the recession not hit," Atchley said. "These developers have the good fortune of knowing something like that might happen again, so you do things in a different way."
Neyland Associates doesn't want to rush. The group's Joe Fielden said it is ready to market for potential tenants, but there are no solid commitments yet. Neyland wanted to bring its plans to the board first.
"I don't want you guys to be hit with surprises," Fielden said at the workshop Monday. "I don't want us to ever be at odds with any communities we do business with.
"We're going to go through a process of master planning to make sure we're doing exactly what we need to out there. I know the previous developer has done a tremendous amount of work and had a pretty good plan ... but that's where we are right now."
Atchley said board members generally support both the project and the proposed connector involving Bryan Road, Douglas Dam Road and Highway 66. He also expressed support for a possible Exit 408 being built at Bryan Road.
"You're talking federal money and federal involvement there, but I really think that's something we need," Atchley said. "Sevier County has only one exit. Other areas (in East Tennessee) have four or five exits, but we're (Exit) 407 and that's it. If we don't start looking now, years down the road I think we're going to wish we had."