City Council approves $1.5 million for University Commons

City Council approves $1.5 million for University Commons project

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University Commons will cover more than 12 acres. (source: CHM, LLC) University Commons will cover more than 12 acres. (source: CHM, LLC)

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knoxville City Council voted to give $1.5 million in public money to the developer who plans to bring a Publix and Walmart on a brownfield just outside the University of Tennessee campus.

The motion passed 7-2 at Tuesday night's city council meeting.

Developers said the money is needed to build roads and other infrastructure at the University Commons development.  

The developers Budd Collum and Jim Harrison did not receive as much in federal tax credits as they hoped for in order to develop the site, the former home of Fulton Bellows factory.  

"They've asked the city to see if we had any appetite to continue to go forward, because we thought it's an important project and want it to go to the finish line," said Bob Whetsel, the director of redevelopment for the City of Knoxville.

 

The money would come from the city's rainy day fund.  

University Commons is scheduled to open in the summer of 2014.  

"It's for public infrastructure for roadways, connecting the project to Cumberland Avenue, connecting it to Joe Johnson Blvd. None of it goes to the realtors or developers," said Arthur Seymour, attorney for the University Commons developers.  

In April, the city council approved a maximum of $10 million for a period of up to 25 years in tax incentives for the project.

It was the largest tax increment financing (TIF) for a project in the city's history.

That's one reason why some council members like Marshall Stair won't vote to provide more help.

"My take is enough is enough. This is Walmart, the largest realtor in the world, a national grocery chain. This is something we shouldn't use tax dollars to support this," said Stair.  

University Commons will be built in the district Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis represents.

He believes the extra $1.5 million will pay off. City money has been used on infrastructure projects in the past like Turkey Creek and Market Square.    

"We gave $4 million to Turkey Creek, $12.5 million to Market Square. Look at what that investment has done for the city," Pavlis said. 

"We're taking a good step and a good measure to get a brownfield site redeveloped. It's up to the developers to see if they can pull this together and make this a reality," Whetsel said.  

Whetsel said the project is slightly behind schedule, but if everything goes according to plan, construction is slated to start by the first of the year.

The developer's attorney said Collum and Harrison already have $5 million of their own money in the project.  

A final resolution would need to be passed to in order for the money to be available to the developer.  

The resolution would need to be presented at a future city council meeting.

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