published Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Cleveland Utilities supports industrial park plan

By Paul Leach/Correspondent

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland Utilities has made a commitment to participate in a joint industrial development project with the city, Bradley County and the county industrial board.

In a 5-0 vote at a called meeting Tuesday afternoon, the utility board approved an appeal by Cleveland Utilities General Manager Tom Wheeler to explore the possibility of financially contributing to a new industrial park planned for southern Bradley County.

Wheeler's proposal included the possible contribution of $2 million -- one-third of the $6 million startup cost -- to the Spring Branch Industrial Park.

"You're either moving forward or you're going back," said Wheeler.

The community needs to consistently renew its job sources, he said, citing high unemployment and a tendency for stagnation to turn into "a downward spiral."

The $6 million cost encompasses not only the purchase of 343 acres of land near Interstate 75 but assorted environmental, geological and topographical studies, according to Doug Berry, vice president of economic development at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

The goal, Berry said, was to get the site "shovel ready" as soon as possible, with the intent of taking advantage of the ongoing recovery of the automobile industry.

Both Berry and Wheeler said they believe the park's location made it ideal for "spin-off" businesses supporting the region's incoming automobile and solar industries.

Wheeler recommended the utility consider taking on $2 million in debt that could be funded through its electric division. The loan payments would take up only between 0.05 percent and 0.2 percent of the electric division budget, according to Wheeler, while annual debt service would cost $50,000 in the first four or five years and potentially increase to $150,000 to pay off the principle.

In return for reducing the funds required of the city and county governments to launch the Spring Branch Industrial Park, Wheeler's proposal asked for 25 acres of park property to be used for a new utility operations center and an equal share of any profits made after development costs.

Wheeler said it would be less expensive for Cleveland Utilities to develop the planned site area because it already had water and sewer connections.

Meanwhile, the Bradley County Commission deferred its support of the Spring Branch project in a Monday meeting until its finance committee has a chance to fully review the project and identify funding sources.

Commissioner Mel Griffith disagreed with setting any kind of deadline for the project's financial review, saying that the property was not going anywhere.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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