A rezoning map shows a grocery or large retail store could be built on the property south of American Museum of Science and Energy.
The rezoning map shows the grocery or retailer could be 55,000 square feet, set back from South Illinois Avenue and next to Badger Avenue. But no prospective tenant has been publicly announced yet.
Also shown on the rezoning map, which was filed for an Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission meeting in October, are three smaller possible retail or restaurant buildings of about 4,000 to 7,000 square feet.
The rezoning was requested by TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC for the 7.4 acres south of AMSE along South Illinois Avenue between South Tulane Avenue and Badger Avenue. That property was once part of the AMSE property and owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, but it has since been transferred to the City of Oak Ridge and then to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC.
The rezoning was approved, with a few contingencies, by the Planning Commission on October 19, and it’s been referred to the Oak Ridge City Council, presumably for the Monday, November 13 meeting.
The property rezoning request is for a UB-2 (a unified general business district) with a planned unit development, or PUD, overlay. That’s the same zoning used for Main Street Oak Ridge, the 58-acre redevelopment of the former Oak Ridge Mall on the other side of South Tulane Avenue.
TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, of Greenville, South Carolina, was set up by RealtyLink, the developer of Main Street Oak Ridge.
The relatively flat property is south of AMSE, mostly a grass field, and currently vacant. Utilities are available. It’s considered valuable commercial property, including because of its location on two busy roadways, South Illinois Avenue and South Tulane Avenue. One development proposal about a decade ago involved a Target and Lowe’s development split between the southern portion of the AMSE property and the Big Lots shopping center on the other side of South Illinois Avenue.
The land had previously been part of the AMSE site, owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, and unavailable for development. The northern portion of the property includes part of the AMSE parking lot.
Now that it’s privately owned, the transition to a commercial use is “expected and appropriate,” the city staff said in its review of the rezoning request.
“The property is located within the city’s commercial core and the nearby properties are already commercial in their use and zoning,” the staff said. “Given the significance of this property within the city center, its high visibility, and location along two arterial streets (South Illinois and South Tulane), specific attention should be dedicated to the quality and character of future development at the site.”
The staff said the proposed development will enhance the use and enjoyment of other nearby land. Those who use the hotel development to the west (there are several hotels in the area) “would likely enjoy access to the retail and restaurant uses the site will offer,” the staff said.
“Further, the proposed development will tie into the existing Main Street development to the east, in terms of scale, uses, and design,” the staff said.
The property was transferred to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC this year as part of an agreement that had been approved by federal officials, unanimously approved by the Oak Ridge City Council, and then signed in late December by the U.S. Department of Energy and City of Oak Ridge.
Under that agreement, the 17-acre AMSE site was transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy to the City of Oak Ridge. The city is transferring the property in two phases to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, which can then use the AMSE site for economic development. The 7.44-acre southern part of the AMSE site was transferred first from the city to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC. At last check, the northern portion hadn’t been transferred yet, according to state property assessment records.
The 7.44 acre parcel equates to about 323,000 square feet of property, according to a rezoning exhibit prepared earlier by Arnold Consulting Engineering Services.
As part of the agreement signed by the city and DOE in December, DOE public outreach and education missions that are now conducted at AMSE and focused on Oak Ridge history, science, and national security will be relocated to renovated space in a two-story building that once housed a Sears store next to JCPenney at what is now Main Street Oak Ridge.
The current AMSE building, home to the museum for about four decades, could eventually be demolished to allow for new construction. At last check, DOE was supposed to be out of the 54,000-square-foot AMSE building by the end of December, but it’s not clear if that is still the schedule.
Before the transfer, RealtyLink had said it was concerned that any development of the museum property that competed with Main Street Oak Ridge could jeopardize its 58-acre open-air mixed-use town center at the former mall site. Eight new stores have opened at Main Street Oak Ridge since mid-June. They are Dick’s Sporting Goods, Electronic Express, maurices, PetSmart, Rack Room Shoes, rue21, T.J.Maxx, and Ulta.
DOE has said AMSE is “over-sized” and “operationally challenged,” and the AMSE property transfer will save more than $2 million in deferred maintenance costs at the museum and greatly reduce operating expenses.
Separately, the Planning Commission agenda for October 19 showed a site plan for a vacant 1.4-acre lot that is part of Main Street Oak Ridge at South Illinois Avenue and South Tulane Avenue, between Taco Bell and Golden Oak Ridge Buffet with an entrance off the road that runs in front of T.J.Maxx, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Walmart.
That site plan shows one building that could include a restaurant and two retailers. In May, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers said it could open in Oak Ridge early next year, and the company was working on securing a space in a multi-tenant building on the northeast corner of Tulane and Illinois, in front of Wal-Mart, according to Bob Rasberry, area franchise owner. “We hope to open early next year,” Rasberry said.
The current status of those plans wasn’t immediately clear Saturday night.
You can see the October 19 Planning Commission agenda here.
You can see an August story about the proposed rezoning of the property south of AMSE here.
You can see a story about the December 2016 AMSE property transfer agreement here.
You can learn more about the 7.44-acre parcel here. The page includes a link to ownership and assessment information.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Do you appreciate this story or our work in general? If so, please consider a monthly subscription to Oak Ridge Today. See our Subscribe page here. Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today.
Copyright 2017 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.