Note: This story was updated at 2:45 p.m.
The American Museum of Science and Energy property could be transferred to the City of Oak Ridge and then to a developer under a resolution to be considered by Oak Ridge City Council on Tuesday.
The City Council will consider whether to accept the 17.12-acre AMSE site from the U.S. Department of Energy during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, December 13, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom. The Council will also consider whether to enter into certain agreements with TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC. That company was set up by RealtyLink, the developer building Main Street Oak Ridge at the former Oak Ridge Mall.
The potential property transfer, the latest in a series of AMSE discussions dating back to at least 2003, was endorsed by City Council this summer as part of the Main Street Oak Ridge redevelopment. Council agreed to allow City Manager Mark Watson to negotiate the AMSE property transfer with DOE and RealtyLink.
On Monday, Watson said the city has submitted a property transfer proposal to DOE, and the federal government has accepted the terms. In order to take effect, the City Council has to approve it.
If the transfer is approved, TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC would provide Oak Ridge with 18,000 square feet of space at Main Street Oak Ridge at no cost for 15 years. The city would pay no rent, maintenance, taxes, or utilities.
The city would in turn sublease that space to the U.S. government at no cost for 15 years. The site could be used for the public education and outreach missions that are now conducted at AMSE and for a temporary visitor center for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The park’s visitor center is now at AMSE.
The city would have an occupancy agreement with DOE allowing the current AMSE activities to remain where they are for one year while the leased space is built, giving the city and the developer one year to prepare and provide the new space, Watson said.
He said the AMSE property would be transferred to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC in two phases. The first phase of the transfer would be the southern portion of the property, between the AMSE tree line and South Illinois Avenue. It would include city-owned right-of-way such as the road that crosses between South Illinois Avenue and the DoubleTree Hotel, Watson said.
TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC wants to develop that southern portion of the property because it would help offset costs associated with the free rent provided to DOE at Main Street Oak Ridge, Watson said. That southern portion of the AMSE property has been considered prime undeveloped commercial real estate, and it could be developed before DOE relocates the AMSE activities. The southern portion could be transferred in late 2016 or early 2017, according to the resolution to be considered by Council on Tuesday.
Watson said phase two of the property transfer, the northern portion, would be a little further down the road. He said AMSE will have all of next year to continue to operate and coordinate with DOE and the Office of Science.
TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC would provide community-oriented amenities such as bicycle and pedestrian paths and “enhanced” landscaping on the property. In return, the city would include about 1.87 acres of city-owned land adjacent to the AMSE property in order to increase the size of the area that can be developed. The 1.87 acres would include the Tulane Place roadway, a roughly 12.5-foot wide strip of right-of-way along the eastern side of Badger Road (the city would retain any easements needed for power poles), and a triangular parcel between the Municipal Building and the AMSE property.
TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC would be responsible for the relocation of any and all utilities required to “maximize” the development of the AMSE property, the resolution said.
The proposal won’t cost the city anything, and no money will be transferred to DOE or TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, the resolution said.
Watson said he thinks Council is generally supportive of the property transfer proposal and interested in it.
There have been discussions over the years about what to do with AMSE. Among other things, DOE has said it is not in the museum business.
“It’s a decision that has not been made over the years,” Watson said. “Now, we can take it to the finish line.”
Watson said the land transfer proposal benefits the city, the developer, and DOE.
“We now have a place to go,” he said. “We begin a whole new planning process.”
It’s not clear yet what would happen to the AMSE building itself.
There have been several proposals to develop or transfer the AMSE property or parts of it during the past 15 years, with previous proposals involving the City of Oak Ridge or Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which is near AMSE. There was a series of community meetings that focused on the future of AMSE in 2014.
Three DOE sites in Oak Ridge—Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, and East Tennessee Technology Park—provide funding to AMSE. In Fiscal Year 2015, they gave $1.5 million to the museum. Officials have said the museum’s operating and labor costs have been as high as $1.7 million to $1.8 million per year, and there have been reports that DOE is interested in cutting its costs. DOE has said AMSE is “over-sized” and “operationally challenged.”
Advocating for the property transfer this summer, RealtyLink, the company redeveloping the 58-acre former Oak Ridge Mall site as Main Street Oak Ridge, told city officials that any redevelopment of the AMSE property that competes with its project would be harmful to its efforts to build the mixed-use town center, which could include retailers, restaurants, residential units, and possibly a hotel.
Main Street Oak Ridge is across South Tulane Avenue from AMSE.
You can see the agenda for the Tuesday evening special meeting here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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