Land deal more sour than sweet

By Josh Flory Knoxville News Sentinel
LOUDON - There were some sweet deals available in downtown Loudon yesterday - at the Tic-Toc Ice Cream Parlor, anyway. The real estate transaction outside the courthouse may have tasted a little more sour, though.

A crowd of six people - including the Scope - showed up Tuesday for the foreclosure sale of a 267-acre property in Lenoir City, which at one time had been the subject of some ambitious plans.

In early 2008, the firm of local television personality Dr. Bob Overholt sold the land on Highway 321 to an out-of-state development firm. The plan was to build a Lowe's at the project, which was called Town Creek Center, but the out-of-state development firm eventually defaulted on its loans from the Tennessee Farmers Life Insurance Co.

Which brings us to yesterday's auction outside the front door of the courthouse. After a semi-lengthy recitation of legalese and an opening bid of $15.9 million on behalf of the debt holders, a separate entity with ties to Tennessee Farmers submitted a bid of $16 million, essentially taking the land back from the one-time borrower.

It wasn't exactly high drama, as auctions go, and there seems to be little promise of exciting events in the property's future. Asked about the prospects for the tract, which is near Interstate 75, Tennessee Farmers controller Wayne Merrill said the plan is to "just put it in the maintenance phase and hold on to it."

Which is not to say that the prospects for land transactions are completely dead in East Tennessee. One of the six attendees at Tuesday's auction was Bryan Petett, of commercial real estate firm NAI Knoxville. Petett has the listing for a 200-acre, mixed-use site on the other side of Highway 321, and said a 14-acre chunk of land is set to close next month, in preparation for a 200-unit apartment complex.

Petett said that while the medical and government-services sectors are still active, it's a pretty tough sell for mixed-use developments. "From a retail standpoint, I think you're going to see a lot of retailers go into vacant boxes," he said, noting that such a move is a lot cheaper than building a new store from the ground up.