Loudon project gets time

By Josh Flory knoxnews.com
Even for Charlie, this challenge may have been daunting.

The latest owner of a proposed 267-acre development in Lenoir City has turned to a familiar Knoxville name to take the wheel. A pair of companies owned by local developer John Turley have taken over the development, marketing and sales duties for Town Creek, a mixed-use project planned for a site between Highway 321 and Highway 95.

When Scope readers last heard about Town Creek, it was in July when TF Properties, an affiliate of Tennessee Farmers Insurance Companies, acquired the property at a foreclosure auction. The land had previously been owned by a company that defaulted on its loans from the Tennessee Farmers Life Insurance Company.

Tennessee Farmers may be best known for Charlie, the pitchman in the red ballcap who dispenses advice on everything from dessert forks to NFL play-calling in the company’s ubiquitous television ads. But even with that multifaceted expertise at hand, the company knew it needed to bring in a full-fledged real estate pro when it came to managing Town Creek.

“We’re not developers, but we believe in the project’s location and viability,” Ed Lancaster, general counsel for Tennessee Farmers, said in a news release. Lancaster added that his company is in the project for the long haul, and said that “to sell at a discount in today’s market would be a huge mistake … We’re positioning the property for several years down the road.”

Under the new arrangement, First Commercial Real Estate will handle sales and marketing for the project, while its development division, Turley & Company, will take over management and development responsibilities. Danny Kirby and Jim Nixon will head up Turley & Company’s end of the venture.

Keith Widmer, president of First Commercial, said Monday that if you look at income and housing, Loudon County is doing fine, adding that there is an absence of retail, apartment and quality office space in the community.

“So we do think we have an opportunity over here, but it’s going to take some patience and time,” he said.

That’s an apparent reference to the anemic development market and difficult financing environment, which has battered retail landlords and made it difficult to push forward on new projects like Town Creek.

But the Knoxville firm knows all about patience and time. It struck gold with development of the Turkey Creek shopping center, in West Knoxville, but has faced a tougher challenge with Dumplin Creek, a project on the south side of Interstate 40 near Exit 407, in Sevier County.

Asked if there was anything new to report on that project, Widmer said, “No, we’re … still pushing and working on several fronts on that. The retail interest is still strong and high … we’re still working on our infrastructure there and trying to figure out how to get it all done.”