It’s Chuck Hope’s first campaign for an elected office, but he already has some job experience.
Hope, a 49-year-old businessman, was appointed to serve on Oak Ridge City Council after former Council member Tom Hayes resigned in June 2011. Now, he’s running for a special three-month term on the city’s seven-member legislative body.
In recent forums and interviews, Hope has advocated for more retail development in Oak Ridge, modernizing older “legacy” homes, and reviving the city’s economic development fund.
He has responded diplomatically when asked about a dispute between the City Council and Oak Ridge Board of Education over whether certain Anderson County sales tax revenues should be used to help make debt payments on the $66 million renovation of the Oak Ridge High School.
“Friends don’t have to be confrontational,” Hope said. “We’ve got to have a good relationship with our school system.”
Hope has said he wants to diversify the local economy. The U.S. Department of Energy sites in Oak Ridge are the “heart of East Tennessee,” with more jobs than any other organization in the area, Hope said. Still, “We can’t continue to rely on federal facilities to be our only employer.”
Hope said Oak Ridge has a highly skilled workforce, and there is a huge potential in some industries—those related to carbon-fiber technologies and supercomputing, for example—to expand on regional strengths and good relationships with the federal facilities to incubate a high-tech research and development industry.
Hope is a former chair of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce and Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau. He’s also served on the Oak Ridge Beer Permit Board and as tools coordinator or co-coordinator for playground rebuild projects at Cedar Hill Park in 1988 and 2011.
Hope said Oak Ridge made a big push a decade ago to bring more homes to the city. Then, the national economy went into a recession.
Now, there are 5,000 home lots that could be developed in Oak Ridge.
“Right now, Oak Ridge is sitting on a potential gold mine,” he said. “We have a real opportunity.”
At the same time, the city has 6,600 “legacy” homes, many built during World War II and now owned by second-generation or absentee landlords. It’s very easy for those homes to be converted to rental properties, which can negatively affect economic diversification, Hope said.
Hope said there is another potential gold mine in the city: the Oak Ridge Mall. It’s now for sale and located on 65 acres of prime real estate in the center of town, but it might only produce one-tenth of what it could generate in sales tax revenues.
“We need to make sure it’s developed to its full potential,” Hope said.
He said redevelopment of the mostly empty mall will likely need some public-private financing. A successful development could have a ripple effect across the community, similar to what happened in west Knox County at the Turkey Creek shopping center, Hope said.
Hope said the city’s economic development fund could be used to help businesses, possibly by setting aside a small part of property tax collections each year to “help us close the deal.”
“I don’t want to borrow money to make that happen,” Hope said.
Hope is running against communications professional Trina Baughn in the Aug. 2 special election. The winner will serve through the regular Nov. 6 City Council election, when Hayes’ term expires.
Then, the winner of the Nov. 6 municipal election will serve a regular four-year term.
Early voting started July 13 and ends July 28.
For more coverage of the race between Hope and Baughn, see this story from a recent League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge forum.