Grassy Creek Development Covered in Compass Article

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Green Acres

Grassy Creek may be that rare thing -- a large greenfield development in West Knox County that everybody’s happy with.




“When Steve Maddox bought eight acres of property along Oak Ridge Highway for $495,000 back in 2005, he didn’t know exactly what he would do with it. He envisioned some kind of small commercial development along one of West Knox County’s busiest roads.

“Then the recession hit,” said Maddox, a developer and owner of Knoxville-based Maddox Companies. “So we just kind of put everything on hold”

The economic slowdown ended up working in Maddox’s favor, as he held onto the property and got to be friendly with the neighboring landowner, a farmer named Donald Malone. Maddox let him know that if he ever wanted to sell, Maddox would be interested. Malone, who had inherited the farm from his father, said he intended to keep the land as long as he lived, but after that it would be up to his son.

“Steve just kind of kept in contact with him,” said Brandon Clark, vice president at Maddox Companies. “And sure enough Mr. Malone died a few years ago and within a month his son called Steve and said, ‘My daddy said if he ever passed away and I wanted to sell the property, call (Maddox) first.’”

Maddox said Malone’s son, a UPS driver with three young children, didn’t want to work the farm. They came to terms for a purchase price of $1.95 million. Maddox, who now owns a combined 30 acres at the intersection of two of West Knox County’s busiest roads -- Oak Ridge Highway and Schaad Road -- is still friendly with the family.

From all of which was born Grassy Creek, a $45 million commercial big-box development with a grocery store, restaurant, mini-storage facility and a dozen other retail and commercial sites.

It includes a $2.5 million tax-increment financing proposal, which County Commission will vote on tonight. The TIF will pay for expansion of a planned road through the development, which will become a cut-through connector between the two roads and take some of the traffic away from their main intersection.

A Growing Population

The project is in the 6th County Commission District, represented by Brad Anders, and on the border of the 3rd District, represented by Randy Smith. Both Anders and Smith were enthusiastic about the project at last Monday’s Commission work session.

“I commend everybody for working on it,” Anders said. “It’s been probably 18 months in the making.”

Smith, who often raises skeptical questions about tax incentives for developments, said, “It’s a very good project, I believe. We’re going to see sales tax dollars generated from this in a place that was generating nothing except very little property tax.”

Multiple agencies have signed off on the project: Knoxville-Knox County Planning, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (because of its impact on Oak Ridge Highway, which is a state road), and both the county and city engineering departments. Although the project is outside city limits, the city has a small section of right-of-way along both roads, leading to the Knoxville Municipal Golf Course on Schaad Road.

Maddox received approval for a site master plan, showing all the different components of the development, and changes in detail within the scope of the plan can be signed off on by planning staff without having to go back for Planning Commission approval. Maddox said that kind of flexibility is important to attracting tenants who may have specific needs.

“If they want you to take it all the way through the process, with the two readings and all that, it takes sometimes up to six months and you lose your customer,” he said. “Once we got the concept plan and everything worked out and approved, if we have to change something a little bit they can approve that in 30 days.”

Because it is a peninsula of sorts, with the nearest houses screened by a row of trees, Grassy Creek has not generated the kind of opposition that large developments often do. On the contrary, Clark said local residents have been enthusiastic. He said there have been 2,179 new homes approved within about a three-mile radius of the site in recent years.

“Everyone out here is saying we need more places to shop, we need more places to eat,” Clark said. A major grocery store tenant has been signed but not yet publicly announced.

Adding Infrastructure

The development will also benefit from the county’s long-gestating Schaad Road project, which is ultimately planned to connect all the way through to Lovell Road, creating an alternative route across the northwest corner of the county. (Commission is also voting tonight on acquiring easements for one section of that project.)

“It’s going to be like a main belt,” Maddox said.

During the work session last Monday, Smith said the traffic flow will also benefit from the development -- especially the cut-through connector that will take traffic from Schaad Road to connect to Oak Ridge Highway west of the main intersection.

Originally, Maddox said that was going to be a small two-lane road, just to serve the shopping center. He had budgeted it at $1.5 million. But in talks with county engineering, he was asked to make it a wider, four-lane road that could accommodate more traffic. That would raise the cost to $4 million.

Maddox agreed, in exchange for a $2.5 million TIF to pay for the public improvements. Once the development is finished, all of its roads and utility upgrades will be dedicated to the county and become public property.

“We’re basically getting a county road, and that is what the TIF is to pay for,” Smith said. The TIF will essentially freeze Maddox's property taxes for 15 years, and money that would have gone to pay the increased taxes will instead pay for the cost of the road.

Pending approval of the TIF at tonight’s Commission meeting, Maddox said he plans to break ground in the next 45 days. He already has construction equipment stationed on site and ready to go. He expects the total build-out will take about four years.”

For more information, please contact Steve Maddox or Brandon Clark at 865-522-9910, or fill out the form below.

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