CLINTON—The Anderson County Commission on Monday unanimously approved a $13 million tax financing agreement that could be used to help the $85 million redevelopment of the mostly empty Oak Ridge Mall.
The vote was 15-0. Anderson County Commissioner Mark Alderson was absent.
“I am extremely optimistic about this,” said Anderson County Commission Vice Chair Robin Biloski, an Oak Ridge resident.
It’s the fifth unanimous or near-unanimous vote on the project in less than a month. The tax increment financing, or TIF, had also been approved with no opposition, but with one abstention, by the Oak Ridge City Council, and it had also been endorsed with no opposition by the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board and Anderson County budget and operations committees.
It was the culmination of local efforts to approve the 20-year TIF, said Tim Sittema, a partner in Crosland Southeast, the North Carolina company that has had a purchase contract on the mall since January.
“I am very encouraged,” Sittema said. “The support from this community has been extraordinary. A project like this can’t get off the ground without community support.”
“That bodes well for the success of this project,” added James L. Murphy, a Nashville attorney who represents Crosland Southeast.
A TIF agreement would use new property tax revenues generated at the site to help pay for development costs, possibly including tearing down the existing space between anchor stores, replacing aging infrastructure, and building new roads. Local officials and company executives say it would create no risk for Oak Ridge, Anderson County, or the IDB.
The TIF now needs approval from the Tennessee comptroller and commissioner of economic and community development. State officials could consider it within four to six weeks, Murphy said.
Sittema said the public-private partnership will help the project in an economic environment in which retailers continue to “tread carefully” and are cautious about opening new stores.
“They’d like to be in Oak Ridge, but they don’t need to be in Oak Ridge,” he said.
Marketing remains a big, important step. Crosland Southeast, which is working on a total of three “dead mall” projects, doesn’t have signed leases for Oak Ridge yet, but the company has daily marketing conversations, focusing for now on larger tenants.
Oak Ridge Mall redevelopment plans have languished for years. But local officials have repeatedly expressed optimism that if anyone can successfully revamp the property, it’s Crosland Southeast, which is relatively new to this project.
Officials and Crosland say the redeveloped 59-acre site could open in 2016, create an estimated 950 to 1,000 new jobs, and increase city and county sales tax revenues by about $2.16 million. The enclosed mall would be converted into an open-air, retail-driven, mixed-use property that could include 400,000 square feet of retail space and roughly 60,000 to 100,000 square feet of office space, a hotel of about 100 to 120 rooms, and up to 50 multi-family, “walkable” residential units. It could also include three to four restaurants.
Sittema said Crosland could close on the purchase in the third quarter of 2014 and construction could last about 18 months.
His company has already invested significantly in the project, Sittema said.
“This is a community that needs to see this dream realized,” he said. “We’d like to be involved in a transformative solution.”
Note: This story was last updated at 5:45 p.m. Nov. 19.