AMSE over-sized, operationally challenged, spokesperson says
The transfer of federal property such as the American Museum of Science and Energy usually takes a few years, and if a new use were proposed for the AMSE property, adequate public notice would be given, an official said Monday.
There has been no public announcement that the federal government wants to get rid of the 17.12 acres of federal property that includes AMSE.
But the Oak Ridge City Council will consider a resolution tonight (Monday, June 13) that would allow City Manager Mark Watson to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Energy and General Services Administration, as well as the company redeveloping the former Oak Ridge Mall, for the property transfer. The GSA is responsible for disposing of federal property.
RealtyLink, the company redeveloping the 58-acre mall site, has said that any redevelopment of the AMSE property that competes with its project, known as Main Street Oak Ridge, would be devastating to its efforts to provide the city a much-needed, quality, retail-centered mixed-use town center. RealtyLink said it must be able to control the redevelopment of the AMSE property.
There are no current development proposals for the AMSE property, either at the museum or on the federal property near it at the busy intersection of South Illinois and South Tulane avenues. But RealtyLink seems to be seeking to protect itself from competition there that would compete with Main Street Oak Ridge and hurt the mall redevelopment.
RealtyLink said it is ready to close on the former mall property, which is across the street from AMSE, by the end of June and begin construction right after that. Resolving the question about the AMSE property is the last hurdle before closing, RealtyLink Principal Neil Wilson told Watson in a June 2 letter.
The proposed City Council resolution to be considered tonight outlines two options for the federal property: Transfer it to the city or allow RealtyLink to negotiate directly with DOE and GSA for a property transfer.
In the meantime, AMSE is expected to continue operating, officials said Friday and Monday.
“As the city develops its path forward, we will continue to operate AMSE for the purposes of public education and outreach, provide space for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park’s temporary Visitor Contact Center, and support the National Park Service’s efforts to establish the permanent park in Oak Ridge,” said Claire Sinclair, a spokesperson in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Site Office Public Affairs.
“The process of transferring federal property for new uses typically takes a couple of years, and if a new use for the AMSE property is proposed, there will be ample public notice,” Sinclair said.
The museum has been at its current home in central Oak Ridge since 1973. Communicating information has evolved significantly since then, Sinclair said.
“Today, it is apparent that the facility (AMSE) underserves the provision of DOE and lab information, is over-sized given current communication technologies, and is operationally challenged both by mechanical features, e.g., air conditioning, systems, and long-term sustainability,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair said the U.S. Department of Energy will continue to seek the best means to fulfill its commitment to public education and outreach, and DOE will partner with the National Park Service. The department has already been engaged in both efforts, Sinclair said.
“The announcement of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in November 2015 brought new opportunities to partner with ‘the nation’s storyteller,’ and DOE provides space for the park’s temporary Visitor Contact Center in AMSE,” Sinclair said. “DOE also is exploring ways to better partner with NPS long-term.”
AMSE is supported financially by the three DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration sites in Oak Ridge: ORNL, East Tennessee Technology Park, and Y-12 National Security Complex. ORNL manages AMSE for DOE. DOE has said it is not in the museum business, and several proposals have been considered for the AMSE property in the past 15 years or so, including an Oak Ridge Associated Universities proposal, a Target/Lowe’s proposal that would have used land in front of the museum, and a transfer to the city.
The AMSE property is included in an economic impact area associated with the mall redevelopment. That plan was adopted by the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board, Oak Ridge City Council, and Anderson County Commission. Property tax revenues from the future development of the property would be used to help repay a $13 million tax increment financing, or TIF, loan. (Tax increment financing uses new property tax revenues generated at a site to help pay development costs.)
Main Street Oak Ridge would redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall as a mixed-use development that would include retailers, restaurants, residential units, and possibly a hotel. In May, Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said Dick’s Sporting Goods, PetSmart, T.J. Maxx, and Ulta will have new stores at Main Street Oak Ridge. Also, Belk and JCPenney are renewing their leases at the 58-acre site, and negotiations with other major retailers are continuing, Gooch said.
The mall is now mostly empty, but Belk and JCPenney remain. The two anchor stores would stay, and the enclosed space between them would be demolished as part of the long-awaited redevelopment, which previous estimates have said could cost $85 million.
It’s not clear yet what impact the city resolution would have on federal procedures, if the City Council resolution is adopted and the DOE and GSA decide to dispose of the AMSE property.
The Oak Ridge City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday, June 13, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom.
See tonight’s City Council agenda here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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