Good projects — Inn, center — take time

Since I was elected in 2014 to the Board of Mayor and Alderman, I have held the positions of alderman, vice mayor and mayor. I have tried to be consistent with my approach to governing by being progressive and working to be proactive rather than reactive to all aspects of our Town’s needs.

I felt the need to invest in community assets was key to improving our way of life. This has paid off, for example, with the purchase of the former Faith Lutheran Church on Jamestown Boulevard, half of which will be used as a community center and the other half as a Knox County senior center.

We also purchased the Campbell Station Inn, located at the corner of Campbell Station Road and Kingston Pike and are in the process of renovating it into a historical asset and plaza for our citizens to enjoy.

The point I want to make is that these types of projects take a considerable amount of time to complete. In the case of the community center, we ran a cost analysis for buying the church five years ago and quickly realized that while we could afford to buy the church, we didn’t have the money to operate it.

Five years later when the purchase price was lowered and we agreed to partner with Knox County, we were able to make this long-term dream a reality. The purchase took place a year ago and many people want to know why we haven’t opened it yet.

Such a project requires numerous steps. First, we had to work with the county to decide how and what needed to be done to get the building ready. Then, we solicited public input and had construction design plans drawn up. The next step is to ask for the Town’s Board and County’s Commission to approve the plans. Soon we will begin construction and we hope to have the building ready for use by the start of 2020.

This process is the same in the private sector. The old Ingles center is a good example of a long-term project. Once the last tenant (Dollar General) moved out, two years went by with no action on the part of the owner. When the Town took legal action due to the unsafe condition of the building, the owner finally agreed to renovate the center. The owner removed the falling shingles, secured the building and presented Town staff with renovation plans in March. Once those plans are approved, construction can begin. While we will all be happy to see renovation work begin, we have to be patient while working through the process to make sure we will be satisfied with the end product.

Sometimes public projects seem to take longer than private projects. A road project, for example, may involve state or federal funding, which slows the process. Design work must meet state requirements and environmental studies may be necessary. Private land acquisition can add a year, and road expansion and upgrades can add three to four years.

Town leadership works hard to find businesses that fit a need in our community. We have tried to attract Lowe’s, for example, but we can’t force a business to come to town, and companies typically have building and demographic requirements for new sites. We send Town representatives to shopping center conventions with the goal of attracting new businesses. This approach brought Costco to Farragut, and soon we hope to announce other new businesses.

Each year, the Board of Mayor and Alderman meets to discuss and review our strategic plan. We work on one-year, five-year, 10-year and 25-year plans. Believe me when I say we look at all aspects of our Town’s growth: roads, parks and greenways, retail, tourism, and even a long-term plan for a mixed-use town center. When a citizen tells me the Town needs something, I can happily say, “Be patient. We’re already working on it.”