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Redevelopment of Oak Ridge Mall

 
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Ellen
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Joined: 15 May 2004
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Sat Jun 19, 2004 11:13 pm    Post subject: Redevelopment of Oak Ridge Mall Reply with quote

I strongly support the concept of redeveloping the Oak Ridge Mall into a "town center" -- a commercial development that recovers some of the "feel" and function of a traditional downtown.

I have heard visitors to Oak Ridge refer to our existing shopping mall as "a failed mall," and I believe that's an accurate description. The mall was too big for the market, and its rents were set too high. Early on, the developer tore down part of the newly built mall to reduce its size. Later on, the food court fizzled out, then around the time of the mall's 5th anniversary (when many national tenants' leases expired -- these tenants probably were here only because they had signed multi-mall package deals with Crown American) many stores emptied out. Customers largely stopped visiting the mall, except for the anchor stores (Proffitt's, Sears, Penney's, and Goody's) and a few other tenants (such as Rack Rooms Shoes). The mall operators have made deals to allow local businesses such as the Upstairs Gallery to occupy vacant space at bargain rents, but that situation is not sustainable.

We residents have been big losers in this situation. We need functional shopping areas to meet our own needs. Furthermore, Tennessee's tax structure makes retail an important source of revenue for municipalities and counties. When we buy the things we need in Knoxville, by mail, or on the Internet, our local government misses out on sales tax revenue and on property tax revenue from local commercial property. Finally, the lack of a vibrant retail sector in Oak Ridge is one of the main factors that cause newcomers to the area (such as new employees at ORNL, where I work) to locate in Farragut or west Knox County instead of Oak Ridge.

Something needs to change. The streets surrounding the mall boast the kind of traffic levels that retailers salivate over, and the American Museum of Science and Energy and the Tinseltown movie complex bring in additional people who normally would be prepared to walk across the street to eat, drink, and buy things, but right now there is nothing there to attract them. Developer Steve Arnsdorff's proposal for transforming the mall into a "town center" looks like the right recipe for this area. Not only that, but it's consistent with national trends, in which retailers are moving away from indoor malls, preferring "strip malls" and "town center"-type retail developments where customers can see storefronts and park near the stores they intend to visit (but walk between stores). People understandably have complaints about some details of the proposals they have heard about (such as the Victorian-style buildings, which would not be in keeping with the city's heritage), but details can be tweaked, and overall we need this project.

It's been quite a few months since the City approved the concept of limited-term tax abatements to encourage the mall transformation, but (except for the welcome news that Starbucks will locate in the area) there has been little information about progress. City Manager Jim O'Connor has informed City Council that Mr. Arnsdorff will attend the Monday, July 19, 2004, City Council work session to discuss progress the mall redevelopment project. According to his memo to Council members, "The discussion will include the latest information on the project and the difficulties that are encountered in facilitating a project of this size and complexity." I look forward to hearing this update.
NOTE: City Council work sessions normally are held in the meeting room at the City Service Center (this is the central facility for public works, the electric department, vehicle maintenance, and other functions) on Woodbury Lane (behind K-Mart -- turn off South Illinois Avenue onto East Tulsa Road, take the first left to Wilberforce, and take the first left off Wilberforce onto Woodbury). Starting time for work sessions varies -- this one currently is scheduled for 7:30 pm, but sometimes they start as early as 5 pm.
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 25, 2004 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Unfortunately, I think the lack of progress on the redevelopment does two things.

One, it proves wrong those who said the mall didn't need any help. Obviously, it does and could need more.

Two, it really weakens the optimism I feel in the community. It is vitally important we get the mall redeveloped, and Applewood Apartments torn down as fast as we can. These two efforts are incredibly important, as is a new high school (preferably downsized as you would like) and our housing efforts, especially Parcel A.

Our city has a real opportunity, I think.
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Ellen
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Joined: 15 May 2004
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2004 7:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Buried at the bottom of a story in today's Oak Ridger:
Quote:
Also during the meeting, the IDB was informed an $800,000 grant to be used toward the redevelopment of the Oak Ridge Mall has been obtained. City Economic Development Director Frank Robinson was thanked for his work, but there was no other discussion on this issue.
This sounds like great news! I hope to learn more soon. Very Happy
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2004 3:17 pm    Post subject: Work session on Mall redevelopment - TONIGHT Reply with quote

Exclamation Exclamation Exclamation Tonight's Council work session (at 7:30 pm) will be in the courtroom at the Municipal Building (not at the City Services Center, as previously noted). It also will be televised on Cable Channel 12 (this is why the location has changed). Thumbs Up
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Ellen
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2004 10:44 pm    Post subject: Arnsdorff appearance at City Council work session Reply with quote

Well the work session on the Oak Ridge mall "resurrection" (Steve Arnsdorff's term for the project) ran about 1-1/2 hours. There was no major news. I'll try to summarize some of the non-major news that did emerge....

Mr. Arnsdorff said that he and his staff have been busy working on a site plan that meets their objectives and satisfies the concerns of the "anchor" tenants (Penney's, Proffitt's -- which is now owned by the Saks company, Sears, Goody's, Staples, and the Tinseltown theater) and are close to finishing that. Also, they are talking to prospective tenants, but aren't ready to make any announcements. He said that he thinks the development planning process is progressing at a reasonable pace, but he does not expect any construction activity until early 2005 at the earliest.

I think that residents will be pleased with the site plan and architectural concepts that he showed. I hope the newspaper reproduces copies of his drawings, because I can't describe these things very well with words -- particularly when I can't wave my hands to illustrate my points. Tan_Smile

Council members clearly are worried about the slow pace of progress on this "resurrection" project. However, at this point there is no public investment in the development -- it is up to Mr. Arnsdorff and his team to put a package together. Only after he meets criteria previously established by the City will the project become eligible for public involvement, including partial tax abatements and bonds issued by the Industrial Development Board. The grant commitment obtained by the City staff will help fund improvements to public areas of the project (sidewalks, streets, and landscaping), and funds would be reimbursed to the developer after the work is done.

At the end of the session, plans were made for Mr. Arnsdorff to return in November, hopefully to present a more solid set of plans.
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2005 11:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Months after that last post...

Steve Arnsdorff returned to City Council last month with a promising report on his plans. I left the meeting optimistic that he's going to pull this off. Cool
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Ellen
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 2:27 pm    Post subject: Crestpointe proposal in 2007 Reply with quote

It's 2007. In January of this year a new retail development proposal emerged -- for a "power center" called Crestpointe to be anchored by a SuperTarget store.

See http://ellensmith.org/blog/?cat=9 for my blog posts on this proposal.
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