Town Creek project a tribute to thinking big

Varied development planned for Lenoir City

Where a 200-year-old farm sits in the heart of Lenoir City, a $500 million to $1 billion retail, office and residential development will start coming out of the ground in the spring.

Knoxville physician Dr. Robert Overholt closed the purchase of a 340-acre tract near Interstate 75 between Highways 321 and 95 late last month and has embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign.

Overholt paid about $14 million for the property, commonly known as the Eldridge Farm.

"This is a chance of a lifetime. There is no other property like this," Overholt said Wednesday as he drove over the site with longtime friend and real estate broker Mike Price.

The Town Creek project "will be a destination-type development" that draws shoppers from a multicounty area surrounding Lenoir City, Overholt said.

"This will bring major new retail, major new business opportunities and major new services to a population that is not now served," the well-known allergist and TV personality said.

Turkey Creek, the massive commercial development in West Knoxville and Farragut, is barely 12 miles to the northeast from the Town Creek tract, but Overholt believes there's plenty of room in the market for both developments.

"The growth in this area has been stupendous," said Overholt, who is recovering from a "revision" to an earlier ankle replacement surgery.

About 427,000 people now live within a 20-mile radius of the Town Creek development. By 2010, the area is expected to be home to more than 450,000 people.

Some of East Tennessee's wealthiest new residential developments - Rarity Bay, Rarity Ridge, Rarity Point and Tennessee National - are well within the targeted 20-mile radius.

The Town Creek project will be built in phases and will take several years to complete. With about 1,800 new homes under construction or planned within a few minutes of the property by car, the timing of the development couldn't be better, said Price, an affiliate broker with Oliver Smith Realty & Auction Co. in Knoxville.

"This is a unique piece of property. Different people have been trying to buy it for years," Price said. Price and Jerry Holloway, also of Oliver Smith Realty, are brokers for Town Creek. Overholt took an option on the land in December 2005.

The concept plan Details are being fine-tuned, but the concept plan for Town Creek includes a mix of big-box retailers and neighborhood stores, a multi-screen movie theater, medical office complex, upscale apartments and possibly an assisted-living center or other elderly housing.

The concept plan shows a commercial center on a ridge south of Adesa Boulevard overlooking Interstate 75 that is anchored by a movie theater and big-box retailer. A medical office complex is shown near Highway 321 across the street from the Fort Loudoun Medical Center.

The residential component would be built near Highway 95 with a view of the mountains.

Overholt envisions well-known retailers such as Lowe's, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Target and other national players opening stores in Town Creek.

No retailers have committed to the project, but dozens of businesses, including regional and local banks, national and regional restaurant operators and retail chains, and three movie theater chains have expressed interest, Overholt said.

And, several high-profile residential developers have expressed interest in building the residential component.

The first commercial segment to be developed will be a 53-acre tract fronting Highway 321 across the street from Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores, which Overholt sold for an undisclosed amount to Southeastern Retail Investments (SERI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Mimms Enterprises of Roswell, Ga.

SERI plans to start construction in late spring on a 200,000-square-foot commercial center. Planning is in the early stages, but SERI wants to recruit national, regional and local retail businesses, Robert Mimms, president of Mimms Enterprises, said in a release.

In early spring construction will start on a 7,200-foot, four-lane boulevard, which will be the main street serving Town Creek. The road will enter the 53-acre SERI property from Highway 321 near Fort Loudoun Medical Center and continue across the Town Creek site to Highway 95.

The boulevard will have curbs, gutters, sidewalks and underground utilities, all of which will be maintained by the project developer.

Gauging the impact The development's investment, taxes and jobs generated would provide a significant boost to an already strong regional economy, said Lenoir City Mayor Matt Brookshire.

"The key - and I have stressed this to the developers - is we want something that is going to be a quality development. We want it to provide good-paying jobs and not just your basic fast-food type jobs," Brookshire said.

Town Creek will be a master-planned development to ensure that all components adhere to design and quality standards, said Overholt, sole owner of MZEE LLC, the corporate entity he formed to buy the property.

MZEE is Swahili for "senior respected person," Overholt said.

Some Lenoir City-area residents have expressed concern about increased traffic that would be generated by Town Creek and another project - Creekwood Park - which is a nearby $250 million mixed-use development planned for 204 acres adjacent to I-75 between Highways 321 and 70, Brookshire said.

However, the mayor said the Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to spend several million dollars to improve intersections and roads in the area, which will ease traffic congestion.

"I think overall the community is excited about (Town Creek). It's going to bring us some things we don't have," Brookshire said.

To date, the city has not been asked to provide financial incentives, but creation of a tax increment financing district or other development incentives are possible, Brookshire said.

"Those kinds of things are on the table, but by no means have there been any commitments. We haven't been asked," Brookshire said.

Before Overholt entered the picture, several developers attempted to buy the property. An offer from Rydal Development of North Carolina fell through last year.

The property had been owned by the Eldridge family since shortly after the Revolutionary War.