For members: New stores planned at Main Street, but construction suspended

A crew works in the area of the second phase of construction of Main Street Oak Ridge on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The construction work has since been suspended. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

Note: This story was updated at 7:45 p.m.

Four new stores are planned at Main Street Oak Ridge, but construction has been suspended for now.

 

A crew works in the area of the second phase of construction of Main Street Oak Ridge on Thursday, March 5, 2020. The construction work has since been suspended. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

Four new stores are planned at Main Street Oak Ridge, but construction has been suspended for now.

The four new stores are Five Below, Home Goods, Old Navy, and Ross Dress for Less. The retailers have signed leases, and their stores could be ready to open as soon as the spring of 2021, said Neil Wilson, principal of the development company, TN Oak Ridge Rutgers LLC. The new stores would be between JCPenney and PetSmart. That includes some of the area where the roundabout used to be.

But construction of the building that would contain the new stores has been suspended.

“Retailers are postponing the opening of new stores and re-thinking the size and configuration of store footprints,” Wilson told Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson in an April 20 letter. “As a result, the retail developers are delaying the construction of the building to house those new stores.”

Wilson said TN Oak Ridge Rutgers LLC is trying hard to get the project back into its development timeline in 60 days. The storage facility, which has previously been considered by city officials, is part of the effort to get the project back on track, he said.

Wilson said retailers are suffering because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the estimated growth in global retail for 2020 will be cut in half from the levels that were forecast before COVID-19.

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The types of stores that will be hit the hardest are “short-term, fashion, furniture, and electronics retailers,” Wilson said. Customers will buy fewer of those discretionary items, choosing instead to stock up on food and household supplies.

But in the meantime, construction could proceed quickly on a three-story self-storage facility at Main Street Oak Ridge. It would be along Rutgers Avenue, behind Burkes Outlet, Electronic Express, and PetSmart. The self-storage market is doing well, Wilson said.

Some residents and city officials, including members of the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission, have opposed the proposed self-storage facility or shown little interest in it.

But in a split vote Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council voted 4-3 to approve a zoning change that could allow it. The zoning ordinance amendment, which did not specifically approve the Main Street Oak Ridge project, is expected to be considered for final approval during another City Council meeting in June.

The rest of this story, which includes background information and information about the City Council vote, is available if you are a member: an advertiser, sponsor, or subscriber to Oak Ridge Today.

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For members: Chinns part of apartment project on former AMSE site

AMSE-Site-Feb-11-2020
The former American Museum of Science and Energy is pictured above on South Tulane Avenue on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

Note: This story was last updated at 10 p.m.

Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn and his brother Ryan are minority partners in the project to build apartments at the former American Museum of Science and Energy site.

 
AMSE-Site-Feb-11-2020

The former American Museum of Science and Energy is pictured above on South Tulane Avenue on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn and his brother Ryan are minority partners in the project to build apartments at the former American Museum of Science and Energy site.

Rick Chinn, a developer, said this month that the project will bring much-needed apartments to the city, allowing more people who work in Oak Ridge to live here. The apartments are being built as RealtyLink, a South Carolina developer, plans to build more new stores across South Tulane Avenue at Main Street Oak Ridge, the redevelopment of the former Oak Ridge Mall.

Now called Main Street Lofts, the apartment project has included an agreement to reduce property taxes and the transfer of what had been federal property from the U.S. Department of Energy to the city and then to a developer. It will include the demolition of the former AMSE building. It is expected to include seven three-story buildings with 226 apartment units on 10 acres.

Rick Chinn and his father, Richard Chinn, a member of the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board, have been abstaining from votes related to the apartment project for at least a year.

They have not been required to explain their abstentions, but Oak Ridge Today has asked Rick and Richard Chinn why they have been abstaining.

The rest of this story, which you will find only on Oak Ridge Today, is available if you are a member: an advertiser, sponsor, or subscriber to Oak Ridge Today.

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P.O. Box 6064

Oak Ridge, TN 37831

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Note: Most news stories on Oak Ridge Today are free, brought to you by Oak Ridge Today with help from our advertisers, sponsors, and subscribers. Some are considered premium content. This story is premium content. Premium content can include in-depth, investigative, and exclusive stories. These stories generally take more than four hours to report, write, and publish.

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Council interested in proposed test, motorsports track

Horizon-Center-Motorsports-Track-Site-1-Feb-11-2020
Part of the site where a test track and research facility or motorsports park could be built on the back side of Horizon Center in west Oak Ridge is pictured above on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The Oak Ridge City Council is interested in a proposed test track and research facility or motorsports park at Horizon Center.

The seven City Council members unanimously expressed interest in the proposed project, which could cost more than $50 million and cover more than 300 acres, during a Monday night meeting. The proposal is still in the early conceptual stage, and Council doesn’t have a specific plan to consider or endorse yet.

There are significant questions about the unusual project, which would be in west Oak Ridge, a few miles northeast of the former K-25 site. They include the questions of whether some potential uses such as a hotel would be allowed by the deed restrictions at the site, whether motorsports would be allowed under the industrial zoning, and whether a recreational vehicle park and outdoor music would be appropriate there.

Oak Ridge City Council member Ellen Smith said there are legal constraints on the property. Certain kinds of uses are allowed, and some, such as homes and hotels, are not, Smith said. She said the U.S. Department of Energy was hoping to foster industrial development on the former federal property.

It’s not clear what position DOE might take on the proposed use, and it’s not clear whether the site would be a test track and research facility for non-spectators, a motorsports park for spectators, or a combination of the two.

[Read more…]

School board approves change in residency requirement

The Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday approved, in the first of two votes, a policy change that would require the superintendent and principals to live in Oak Ridge.

Assistant principals, the executive director of school leadership, and the executive director of teaching and learning would be required to live in Oak Ridge if they are relocating to the region after being hired by Oak Ridge Schools. This would not apply to new administrators in those positions who already live in adjacent counties, such as Knox County.

The policy change would reduce the number of administrative positions with a residency requirement. The current policy requires the superintendent, executive director of school leadership, executive director of teaching and learning, director of pupil services, principals, and assistant principals to live in Oak Ridge “to be thoroughly familiar with the community and to be available beyond the regular day.”

But the current policy is suspected of reducing the number of candidates who apply for jobs at Oak Ridge Schools, according to administrators.

[Read more…]

Council approves revised Main Street plan

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, May 13, 2019, will consider the revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge, the 58-acre project to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall.

Note: This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. May 14.

After rejecting an earlier version, the Oak Ridge City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to approve the latest version of the revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge, the 58-acre project to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall.

The vote during a regular meeting in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom on Monday was the first of two readings, or votes. The second vote could take place during a special meeting on Tuesday, May 21.

The approval on Monday occurred four months after Council rejected an earlier version of the plan in a 3-4 vote in January. Since then, a new revised plan has been submitted to the city, and there have been additional discussions between city officials and RealtyLink, the South Carolina developer. In April, the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission recommended 7-1 that the new plan, which is similar to the earlier plan, be approved with some conditions.

The revised plan is being considered as RealtyLink prepares to welcome a second wave of tenants to the site, which is in central Oak Ridge. It would be the second phase of the project, and it could include 90,000 square feet of new retail buildings, an open space near the Belk store, and new sidewalks and crosswalks. It could also include a bus drop-off area near the relocated American Museum of Science and Energy.

[Read more…]

Ts117 Modern CoWorking has grand opening Monday

Ts117 Modern CoWorking has a grand opening on Monday afternoon, April 15, 2019. (Submitted photo)

Ts117 Modern CoWorking has a grand opening on Monday afternoon, April 15.

The grand opening is scheduled from 1:30-4:30 p.m. Monday at 701 Scarboro Road. It will feature guest speakers, hors d’oeuvres, and personal tours of the facility, an event notice said.

The notice said Ts117 has been named the largest coworking facility in the area.

“We cannot wait to share it with you!” said the notice, sent out by Rick Chinn of R&R Properties. “Come out and experience the next generation of office space.”

[Read more…]

Council members suggest next steps for Main Street Oak Ridge

Most of Main Street Oak Ridge is pictured above in this proposed plan from Nov. 29, 2018.

Most of Main Street Oak Ridge is pictured above in this proposed plan from Nov. 29, 2018.

 

Oak Ridge City Council members on Tuesday suggested next steps for Main Street Oak Ridge. The discussion occurred about a week after Council rejected a revised plan for the second phase of the project in a 4-3 vote, creating uncertainty about what will happen next. The Tuesday evening discussion was meant to help guide Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson in his conversations with RealtyLink, the developer.

The four City Council members who voted against the revised plan expressed a range of concerns on Tuesday that included having a main entrance, ensuring that there is a way to get into and see the center of Main Street, and making sure the project is walkable and has a comprehensive system of sidewalks. Individually or collectively, they objected to the proposed layout of the buildings as the site prepared to welcome a second wave of tenants, advocated for a public forum on the project, and mentioned the importance of mixed-use development. (Mixed-use developments can include retailers and residential and commercial units, among other possibilities.)

The three Council members who voted for the revised plan continued to stress the potential benefits of welcoming four new national retailers to Oak Ridge, pointed out that RealtyLink has spent tens of millions of dollars here, and emphasized the importance of the potential sales tax revenues. They said those revenues will be crucial to help pay off such debts as the renovation of Oak Ridge High School. That debt is expected to spike in 2022 and 2023, about the same time as the city will permanently lose its revenues from the state’s Hall income tax, Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said.

Gooch issued a dire warning about the possibility of city inaction bringing the project to a standstill on Tuesday.

“The clock is running, and it’s going to impact us going forward,” Gooch said. “I view this as absolutely imperative to go forward. The fiscal viability of this city is at risk.”

The Council members who have raised concerns and voted against the revised plan on Monday, January 14, have stressed the importance of making sure that the city and developer pursue the best development option. They have said they want to ensure the project’s long-term success.

Here is a summary of some of the city officials’ comments from the Tuesday night non-voting work session: [Read more…]

Council approves plan for apartments at former AMSE site

The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission will consider a rezoning and planned unit development on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, that would allow apartments to be built on the former American Museum of Science and Energy property on South Tulane Avenue.

The Oak Ridge City Council approved a rezoning and planned unit development on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, that would allow apartments to be built on the former American Museum of Science and Energy property on South Tulane Avenue.

 

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday approved a plan that would allow apartments at the former American Museum of Science and Energy site on South Tulane Avenue.

The apartment proposal requires a rezoning and the approval of a plan for a planned unit development, or PUD.

They were approved in a 5-1-1 vote in the first of two readings on Monday. The second and final reading will presumably be in February.

Voting for the plan were Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and City Council members Kelly Callison, Jim Dodson, Derrick Hammond, and Ellen Smith. [Read more…]

Council rejects revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge

Most of Main Street Oak Ridge is pictured above in this proposed plan from Nov. 29, 2018.

Most of Main Street Oak Ridge is pictured above in this proposed revised plan from Nov. 29, 2018.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 1 a.m.

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday narrowly rejected a revised plan that would have allowed four national retailers to build stores at Main Street Oak Ridge.

The Council had unanimously approved a revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge, subject to certain conditions, in December. That was the first of two readings.

But Council rejected the plan in a 4-3 vote in the second and final reading on Monday.

The rejection hinged on concerns that included the closure of an access road to the 58-acre site, the movement of mixed-use areas to a future phase along Wilson Street, and questions about whether there are other site plan options and whether the development would or should establish a “city center.” People who rejected the revised plan or asked Council to reject it said they support the development and want continued negotiations with RealtyLink, the developer. But it wasn’t immediately clear this week if that will happen.

Those who had supported the revised plan, on the other hand, warned that rejecting it could affect funding for Oak Ridge and Anderson County governments and school systems by diminishing expected sales and property tax revenues, possibly in the range of several hundred thousand dollars. They worried about the impact on the city’s retail community, property tax values, and new housing developments. They called the project a “once in a generation” opportunity and said it could be a few decades before another similar proposal emerges.

It’s not clear what will happen next or if there is any solution that will be acceptable to both RealtyLink and the planning commissioners and City Council members who opposed the revised plan. On Tuesday, three people involved in the project, including RealtyLink, said there is no other design, no “plan B.”

“We’ve worked for six months to get to where we are,” said Neil Wilson, principal of RealtyLink in Greenville, South Carolina. “We didn’t get what we wanted, and they didn’t get what they wanted.”

He said the four national tenants were notified Tuesday that Council rejected the proposed changes to the planned unit development for Main Street Oak Ridge. The potential tenants will be notified if something changes. [Read more…]

(For members) Divided opinion, split vote for revised Main Street plan

The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission and City Council discuss the revised plan for the second phase of Main Street Oak Ridge during a non-voting joint work session in the Municipal Building on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission and City Council discuss the revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge during a non-voting joint work session in the Municipal Building on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission and City Council discuss the revised plan for the second phase of Main Street Oak Ridge during a non-voting joint work session in the Municipal Building on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission and City Council discuss the revised plan for the second phase of Main Street Oak Ridge during a non-voting joint work session in the Municipal Building on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

Oak Ridge officials have discussed the revised plan for the next phase of Main Street Oak Ridge in a half-dozen meetings since October, and in that time, the Municipal Planning Commission has had a split vote and City Council members have expressed divided opinions about the plan.

The Planning Commission, which has generally had concerns about the revisions and had postponed a vote, approved a version of the revised plan, subject to 10 conditions, in a 5-4 vote during a special meeting on Wednesday.

It’s not clear what will happen when the City Council considers the Planning Commission’s recommendation on Monday, December 10. Several Council members have had concerns, while others seemed ready to allow RealtyLink, the developer, to proceed with the 58-acre redevelopment.

The revisions have been proposed as RealtyLink prepares to welcome a second wave of tenants to the former mall site. The changes, which planning commissioners have called significant, would eliminate multifamily units and add retail uses, according to the city staff. The proposed revisions have included removing the access road from the roundabout to Rutgers Avenue, building four stores in that area (between PetSmart and JCPenney), eliminating the planned multi-family residential units near JCPenney, adding sidewalks and open space, and including mixed-use development in a later phase along Wilson Street.

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Those who have had concerns have been disappointed about the proposal to close the access road and a shift from what they thought was going to be a mixed-use center with residential units, retailers, restaurants, and a central gathering space, to what could be primarily a shopping center. They have argued that a mixed-use area could improve the long-term viability of the project.

“The overwhelming response I’ve heard is: We want a town center,” said Stephen Whitson, Planning Commission chair. “I’ve heard it over and over.”

Those who would like to proceed are worried that RealtyLink could move on to other developments in other communities if its revised project here is not approved, and they have cited the potential sales tax revenues from the new retailers as an important consideration. The new retailers could include apparel stores and a home store.

Complicating the project are various lease and deed restrictions that control what can be built where. Lease restrictions include, for example, limits on the size of buildings on Wilson Street and restrictions on parking lot use near Cinemark Tinseltown, with no residential within 300 feet of the closest boundary corner.

The question now is whether the city wants to “hold out for something better” or act on a plan that is ready to go, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said during a November 8 work session featuring Planning Commission and City Council.

RealtyLink has said the proposed changes to the plan are tenant-driven, and the company has limited control over the site plans. Five national tenants are “at the table,” Neil Wilson, RealtyLink principal, told planning commissioners in October. RealtyLink has taken a plan first proposed by Crosland Southeast, the original developer, and adopted and revised it.

New stores would not be expected to be open by Christmas 2019, but they could be open sometime around the spring of 2020, according to the discussion at a November 8 work session.

Here is a timeline of the discussion in five meetings since October. It includes the opinions of planning commissioners and City Council members, and the results of the Wednesday vote.

The rest of this story, which you will find only on Oak Ridge Today, is available if you are a member: a subscriber, advertiser, or recent contributor to Oak Ridge Today. 

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If you prefer to send a check, you may do so by mailing one to:

Oak Ridge Today
P.O. Box 6064
Oak Ridge, TN 37831

Note: Most news stories on Oak Ridge Today are free, brought to you by Oak Ridge Today with help from our advertisers, sponsors, and subscribers. Some are considered premium content. This story is premium content. Premium content can include in-depth, investigative, and exclusive stories.