Construction work has started at a four-acre tract on South Illinois Avenue that will feature an Aubrey’s restaurant and Panera Bread.
The restaurants could be complete by September or October.
Panera will move its Oak Ridge restaurant and add about 500 square feet of space and a “more efficient floor plan,” said Terry Wheeler, co-owner of the development, called Woodland Town Center. Panera is currently a bit farther north on South Illinois Avenue.
Wheeler said the new Aubrey’s, an upscale family restaurant, will be similar to a restaurant at Middlebrook Pike and Cedar Bluff Road.
Workers are clearing about four acres at Woodland Town Center, but the development could grow to 5.75 to 7.25 acres. The total investment could be as high as more than $15 million if two other unnamed tenants agree to build there, Wheeler said.
A short stretch of Quincy Avenue at South Illinois Avenue has been closed to make way for the development, and a new road will be built through Woodland Town Center. It will line up with the entrance to Phillips Lane and the former Dean Stallings Ford on the west side of South Illinois Avenue.
There will also be a new stoplight on South Illinois Avenue in front of Woodland Town Center.
“It will become a major intersection,” Wheeler said.
The new stoplight and road, as well as improvements to the public storm water system, are being paid for with a $625,000 tax increment financing agreement approved by city and county officials. That agreement, which could last up to 20 years, allows new tax revenues generated at the site to be used for the improvements.
Aubrey’s and Panera purchased their parcels and are developing their own property, while Wheeler and Wise are building the road and installing the traffic signal.
The new Panera Bread will be 4,200 square feet, and it will be based on the company’s corporate model, Wheeler said. Aubrey’s will be about 7,200 square feet.
Wheeler said Woodland Town Center is currently trying to finalize contracts with the other two prospective tenants.
Wheeler’s partner is Knoxville developer Walter Wise. The two previously built the Central Park Commerce Center on Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of Manhattan Place Shopping Center.