By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter
KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Developers joined city and county officials to break ground on the $62 million University Commons project that will be located at the edge of the University of Tennessee campus.
The builders plan to bring Publix and Walmart stores to the former Fulton Bellows site near Alcoa Highway and Volunteer Boulevard.
The project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2014. It will fill a grocery and retail void in the downtown area.
"It's going to offer great convenience for the neighborhoods and the surrounding areas, including into South Knoxville, Sequoyah Hills, Fort Sanders, downtown and the UT area," said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.
In addition to providing grocery store services in a federally-designated food desert, the development could add $20 million in local taxes.
"The excitement that's it created with the brownfield being added to the tax roll, it's the jobs, the investment, it's a really a win-win," said Knoxville City Council member Nick Pavlis, who represents the district.
Developers Budd Collum and Jim Harrison say they've encountered obstacles along the way. They did not receive as much in federal tax credits as they hoped for in order to develop the site.
They received $1.5 million from the city in October to help with the cost of infrastructure.
Plans call for a bridge from Joe Johnson Drive to the development and a traffic light at a second entrance along Kingston Pike.
Another obstacle developers faced was having to convert the old Fulton Bellows factory site.
"One of the problems from the factory that operated here, there were solvents that leached into the groundwater and into some of the soil," Collum said.
Collum says developing the brownfield site is an on-going challenge.
The brownfield remediation process involves scientists testing dirt and water samples when the ground is excavated, all to make sure there are no remaining harmful contaminants in the ground.
"As we drill through to build caissons to elevate our structure, we have to test all the groundwater and remove all the water to a qualified landfill," said Collum.
The city took a big leap of faith when it gave $10 million in tax incentives for the project, the largest in city history.
Officials hope it plays a role in revitalization efforts around the Cumberland Strip and the UT campus.
"We are going to turn this whole area around, and this is obviously is a significant key in that, and that is a major investment, sort of the anchor investment in this area," Rogero said.
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