Town Creek developers withdrawing TIF request

Hugh G. Willett

Representatives of the Town Creek mixed-use development in Lenoir City have informed city council members that the group is withdrawing its $10 million tax increment financing request.

Lee Kribbs, a consultant to MZEE LLC, a real estate partnership that included Knoxville physician Dr. Bob Overholt, requested earlier this week that the Tax Increment Financing proposal be removed from the council's meeting agenda.

The move comes after months of negotiations and modifications to the TIF, which began as a $20 million proposal to provide infrastructure improvements on the 267-acre site on Highway 321 near Interstate 75.

The proposal was reduced to $10 million after the Loudon County Commission, concerned about raising taxes schools, unanimously rejected participation in the plan in November.

The TIF plan called for using property tax revenue generated by the development to pay off private financing of road and infrastructure improvements related to the project.

The move to drop the TIF comes after reports that MZEE sold the 267-acre parcel to The Tetra Companies earlier this month for nearly $16.4 million.

Although Kribbs told the council that the proposal would not be back on the agenda, it remains unclear whether Tetra will ask the council to approve another version of the plan.

"They certainly have the right to submit their own version of the proposal," said Dale Hurst, city administrator. "We haven't heard anything about their plans."

MZEE had offered the city a number of incentives to approve the plan, including an acre of land inside the development, $2 million for upgrades to the sewer lines and up to $60,000 per year for several years to make up for lost tax revenue.

Although the council had voted 4 to 2 to approve the $20 million plan without the added incentives, at least one council member Mike Henline, who also is a member of the Lenoir City Board of Education, had begun asking tougher questions about the $10 million plan and could have possibly joined council members Buddy Hines and Eddie Simpson in their opposition.

In the case of a 3 to 3 tie on the council, Mayor Matt Brookshire, who expressed his approval of the TIF publicly on more than one occasion, could have cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the plan.

Other changes on the council since the TIF was last discussed in December include the death of longtime council member Gene "Blackie" Johnson earlier this month.

Johnson had voted for the TIF plan but it's not clear that his son Bobby Johnson, a school board member who was appointed to fill his father's seat on the council, would have endorsed the plan.