Knox County commissioners discuss possible move to Knoxville Center Mall

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KNOVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Two Knox County Commissioners hosted a public meeting Friday to discuss what needs to be done to put another building in the running for the Knox County Schools offices.

Commissioner Charles Busler and At-Large Commissioner Justin Biggs held the meeting at the Aubrey’s in Powell.

Commissioners Carson Dailey and Michele Carringer also attended the meeting.

The group discussed their concerns regarding the Knox County Schools offices moving from the Andrew Johnson building, which the county currently owns, into the bottom six floors of the east TVA Tower.

The commissioners believed the decision to move into the TVA Tower was being rushed.

They said that the KCS Board of Education voted on Wednesday to not go ahead with the move, giving them more time to figure out better options.

Carringer said that the TVA Tower would be pricier than what was proposed.

The TVA building has already undergone some renovations, but Carringer said Summer Place, a garage and office space also offered in the TVA contract, was a different case.

“We’ve not even began to discuss the renovations that would have to come out of Knox County’s budget to even get those offices up to where we can move any Knox County offices over there,” Carringer said.

Other issues regarding the TVA Tower were brought up during recent commission meetings, such as security.

Because the TVA Tower is a federal building, anyone going inside would need a Real ID and law enforcement officers can’t bring their guns inside.

Busler said the other issue with the TVA contract is that taxpayers and the county wouldn’t have any protection.

“The county has got all these things that we’re liable for, but we got no way to litigate it, except by arbitration, which is controlled by the TVA. and then if we have to take it any deeper, we have to go to the 6th Circuit Court to file a lawsuit,” Busler said.

He also said that the contract was incomplete when it was presented to the commission Monday night.

The commissioners also pointed out that the proposal to move out of the AJ Building and move into the TVA Tower has been brought up to two different county administrations, but was never voted on by the commission.

They said there must be a reason why the proposal never reached the commission for a vote.

Carringer said the talks about the move really sped up when the Knoxville Center Mall announced it’s closure.

The commissioners said the mall property was discussed as an option previously, but the property was only being leased and the county wanted to own it.

Now that the mall will close and the future of the property hasn’t been set in stone, it became a possible option for not only KCS, but all county offices.

“What are we going to get for (the TVA Tower) for an easement? We’re going to spend, if we do 15 years, it’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $36 million. When you get to the 40 years, it’s supposed to be $62 million. We’d pay for an agreement to walk on the property, and we have no control over it and they tell us what we can and cannot do,” Busler said.

Busler said that the county needs to do a cost study on the mall property to appropriately decide what options would be the best use of taxpayer’s money.

The county finance department estimated the cost of renovating the mall would be almost $153 million.

Biggs said that he believed that estimate was more than what he found after looking into it.

Busler said the mall has a lot of mixed-use options, which would help with funding.

He said technical schools could use some of the space.

Busler said that because creating more technical schooling opportunities was one of Gov. Bill Lee’s missions, the state might be willing to help pay as well.

Carringer said the mall would be a better option for multiple reasons.

She said the move would help the area grow economically, and it would be a one-stop-shop for all county resident’s needs.

The commissioners also brought up concerns about who the AJ Building was being sold to. They said that because it is a county-owned property, the entire entity buying or leasing the building should be made public.

They also believed that the AJ Building is worth a lot more than the $6 million that it’s projected to sell for.

Biggs also looked into the possibility of how soon the county could move its offices, if they chose to move into the mall property.

He found a resolution from 2001 that stated both the county and city needed to vote every year for the county to use the City-County Building.

Another public meeting will be held Monday at noon at the Sunspot restaurant.

The commissioners said some of the owners of the mall were expected to be there.

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