Construction documents have been submitted to the City of Oak Ridge for the new museum at Main Street Oak Ridge, and the American Museum of Science and Energy will continue to be at its current location past the end of the year, municipal and federal officials said this week.
It’s not clear when AMSE might open at its new home at Main Street Oak Ridge, the 58-acre project to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall.
On Monday, John Shewairy, assistant manager for administration in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office, said the construction documents were also expected to be submitted to a contractor for pricing this week.
“We don’t yet have an estimated opening date for the museum in its new location because the construction schedule is still being finalized,” Shewairy said.
On Friday, Wayne Blasius, director of Oak Ridge Community Development, confirmed that the city has received the construction documents for the new museum at Main Street Oak Ridge. The construction documents for the new museum are now under staff review, Blasius said. It’s not clear how long that review might take. The submission of the documents is for a building permit, which does not require the approval of either the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission or Oak Ridge City Council.
There had been some questions earlier about whether the museum would still be called AMSE after it moves from its current home on South Tulane Avenue, where it’s been since the mid-1970s, to Main Street Oak Ridge. Shewairy reaffirmed on Monday that the new museum would be called the American Museum of Science and Energy.
AMSE is relocating to space that will be renovated in a two-story building that once housed a Sears Roebuck store next to JCPenney at what is now Main Street Oak Ridge. That planned move is part of an agreement that was signed by the city and DOE in December. Under that agreement, the 17-acre AMSE site was to be transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy to the City of Oak Ridge.
The city is, in turn, transferring the AMSE property in two phases to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC. That company was set up by RealtyLink, the developer of Main Street Oak Ridge.
The southernmost 7.44 acres of the AMSE site have already been transferred to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC. On Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council unanimously approved a rezoning for that property, which could be developed with a grocery store, retail shops, and restaurants.
It’s not clear yet what the new museum space at Main Street Oak Ridge will include, what hours it might operate, and how many staff members might work there.
“The Department is currently working with Gerard Hilferty and Associates, the consultant who’s been working on the K-25 museum, but details haven’t been finalized,” Shewairy said in September.
The current AMSE location has 54,000 square feet, and it could eventually be demolished to allow for new construction. The exhibit space now at AMSE occupies about 15,000 square feet of the current building, not including the museum lobby. DOE has said the current AMSE building is “over-sized” and “operationally challenged,” and the property transfer approved in December was expected to save more than $2 million in deferred maintenance costs at the museum and greatly reduce operating expenses.
The new museum location at Main Street Oak Ridge is expected to have about 18,000 square feet of space.
Once it’s finished, the renovated space at Main Street Oak Ridge will be provided by TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC to the city at no cost for 15 years. That means no rent, utilities, or maintenance. The build-out cost of the former Sears space has previously been estimated at about $1.8 million.
The city will, in turn, sublease that former Sears space to DOE at no charge for 15 years.
AMSE has been considered one of the top tourist attractions in the Knoxville area, and it attracts about 65,000 visitors per year. Among other activities, AMSE displays scientific exhibits and historic photos; hosts community presentations, events, and speeches; and helps tell the story of Oak Ridge, a city built during the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II. AMSE is also the starting point for bus tours of historic sites on the federal government’s Oak Ridge Reservation, and it has hosted the National Park Service visitor center for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The December 2016 agreement allowing the transfer of the current AMSE property to the city and then to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC 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.
Before the AMSE property 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, after the AMSE property was transferred from DOE to the city. The new stores are Dick’s Sporting Goods, Electronic Express, maurices, PetSmart, Rack Room Shoes, rue21, T.J.Maxx, and Ulta.
Construction is expected to start soon on a Main Street Oak Ridge building that will include Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers on a corner lot at South Illinois Avenue and South Tulane Avenue, between Taco Bell and Golden Oak Buffet.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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