Town Creek moves ahead

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

With the Town Creek Parkway extension finally coming to fruition, developers and officials are building up anticipation of its impact on the local economy.

Construction on the parkway is out to bid, and developers, like First Commercial Real Estate President Keith Widmer, are drumming up excitement by marketing the coming Town Creek Center to potential retailers.

Town Creek Center, located off U.S. Highway 321 in Lenoir City, is a new retail, office and residential campus that is expected to be a mainstay of the parkway.

Widmer predicts the center will flourish with retail opportunities similar to Knox County's Turkey Creek shopping area.

"If you look at something like Turkey Creek and see what kind of mix we have in there we'd have those kind of set up," Widmer said. "We are talking to retailers and other office users. We are pretty excited about Town Creek becoming the next epicenter for mix-used retail office in Loudon County."

First Commercial Real Estate is representing Farm Bureau Insurance of Tennessee on the project. The insurance company owns the 270-acre development.

Widmer said the center will be marketed to retailers and business offices like the one already planned by Farm Bureau Insurance as well as for apartment complexes or assisted-living centers.

A new 15,000-square-foot Farm Bureau Insurance regional claims center is under construction in Town Creek and is expected to be completed in early fall. Widmer said the claims center is in response to an overcrowded Knoxville office.

"Everyone wanted to wait and see when the road was going to start, so the first announcement we have is this 15,000-square-foot office that is under construction We don't have announcements yet, but we are talking to national retailers and office users," Widmer said. "We will be headed to Las Vegas in the middle of May to the largest real estate convention in the world. Town Creek will be one of our primary properties that we will be pushing and showing out there."
Widmer expects more announcements of retailers or offices joining Town Creek in the next 12-14 months.

"Lenoir City is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. There is not a large development of retail in the county," Widmer said. "We look at this as the next step in retail development, and it's geographically well placed with visibility from the interstate. We've always believed in the project. We think the worst times are behind us we hope and we think."

Danny Kirby of Turley & Co., project manager for the development, anticipates the parkway to be completed by next spring. The new four-lane highway will run from U.S. Highway 321 to Harrison Road near Lenoir City High School.

"We think it's good excitement for Lenoir City and Town Creek. With the schools nearby and the residential population west of the schools, we think Town Creek Parkway, when it opens, will be the main thoroughfare for those folks to get to Highway 321 and the interstate," Kirby said.

Lenoir City Administrator Dale Hurst agreed.

"So we think once we tie those (roads) in after this job I believe it will be almost instantly busy," Hurst said. "We are optimistic it will be a good development."

Though plans for Town Creek have been in the works for about five years, Loudon County Economic Development Agency President Pat Phillips said the project will not only offer a boost in retail, but help with transportation issues.

"That's one benefit to the community in terms of improved access to both 321 and the interstate. The second is the proximity of the site to existing residential areas, mostly there in Lenoir City," Phillips said. "It's so close to large residential areas. We think it has a good opportunity for growth in terms of attracting some large retailers."

Bridge using dirt
Timing of the parkway extension has aided the nearby Tennessee River bridge project at Fort Loudoun Dam.

Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said the construction of a new four-laned bridge over the river requires more than 876,000 cubic yards of dirt to be brought in "to construct the large fills mainly located between the new river bridge and canal bridge."

The TDOT project includes three bridges a bridge over the railroad, the Tellico Canal and Tennessee River and the straightening of U.S. Highway 321 near Highway 444 for a total cost of $69.3 million.

Since dirt already needed to be transferred on the Town Creek development, the two local projects seemed like a good fit.

"It just improved the site. This was a big hill," Kirby said, pointing to topography lines on a map. "The northwestern portion of the site was really just a big rounded hillside. It would have stayed like that. As nice of a farm as it was, it was a big hillside farm, and you couldn't build on it. We didn't really have anywhere to move or put the dirt and had no intentions of exporting dirt to improve the site. We were just fortunate that the bridge project came along. The timing was good for Town Creek."

Kirby said there are no other plans to move additional dirt.

"We will wait until they are done and kind of see how things look. If we have an area that has excess dirt and they want to come get it, it's not cheap to get rid of dirt," Kirby said. "So, we don't plan on hauling it off anywhere unless someone wants to come get it for free."

He expects to finish hauling the borrowed material by June.

For more information on Town Creek Center, visit http://www.towncreekinfo.com.

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4/15/13