Construction work has started at the new American Museum of Science and Energy at Main Street Oak Ridge. Interior demolition work is under way, and exterior demolition work could start Wednesday.
The value of the improvements is estimated at roughly $1.5 million. A building permit was issued December 29.
AMSE will be relocated from its current home on South Tulane Avenue, where it’s been since the mid-1970s, to about 18,000 square feet of renovated space at Main Street Oak Ridge. That’s the 58-acre project to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall. The move is part of an agreement that was signed by the City of Oak Ridge and U.S. Department of Energy in December 2016.
AMSE will have about 15,000 square feet of space in the former Sears Roebuck store near JCPenney and roughly 2,700 square feet in the former Cole’s Drug Store. Inside, there will be about 7,200 square feet of exhibit space, two 800-square-foot classrooms, and a large theater with a stage, consultant Ray Evans told Oak Ridge City Council members during a December 19 work session.
Evans said construction could take 4.5 to five months. An opening date had not been set as of the December work session.
The former mall has been demolished except for Belk and JCPenney. Since then, nine new stores have joined Belk and JCPenney at Main Street Oak Ridge: Dick’s Sporting Goods, Electronic Express, maurices, PetSmart, Rack Room Shoes, rue21, T.J. Maxx, Ulta, and World Finance Loans & Taxes. Two more businesses are under construction: The Spa Lounge Lash & Nail Studio and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers.
Construction documents were submitted in November for the new museum space at Main Street Oak Ridge. In the meantime, the American Museum of Science and Energy, a top tourist attraction in the region, continues to be at its current location.
Under the agreement signed by the city and DOE in December 2016, the 17-acre AMSE site on South Tulane Avenue 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. In November, 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,” John Shewairy, assistant manager for administration in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office, 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 more than a year ago was expected to save more than $2 million in deferred maintenance costs at the museum and greatly reduce operating expenses.
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 city will, in turn, sublease that former Sears/mall 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 previously 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 December 2016 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.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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