published Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Coca-Cola United still mulling Chattanooga for distribution facility

HISTORY OF COCA-COLA IN CHATTANOOGA

• 1886: Coca-Cola born in Atlanta, Ga.

• 1899: Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company founded

• 1902: Coca-Cola United formed in Birmingham by Chattanooga man

• 1909: Number of Coca-Cola bottlers in the U.S.A. nears 400

• 1920s: Chattanooga Coca-Cola purchased by Coca-Cola United

• 1960s: Coca-Cola introduces new brands, including Sprite, Minute Maid, TaB and Fresca

• 1970: Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company moves to 4000 Amnicola Highway

• 2013: Coca-Cola announces independent bottlers, like Coca-Cola United, to absorb distribution areas

• 2014: Coca-Cola United (Chatt. Coca-Cola owner) set to increase distribution area by 45%

Coca-Cola Bottling Company United's $62 million expansion may be Chattanooga's biggest project in more than three years, if it comes to the city.

And so far, so good.

The Birmingham, Ala.-based Coke bottler talks like it wants to build a 290,000-square-foot distribution and sales facility on the former Olan Mills plant Highway 153. The facility would create 43 new jobs, according to a news release.

And proposed legislation necessary to rezone two plats of land adjacent to the desired property on the bottler's behalf sailed through a City Council economic committee board hearing on Tuesday.

Coca-Cola United has said that if it lands at the Olan Mills site, it wants to build a truck entrance tying into W. Shephard Road, providing quick access to Highway 153. That proposed entrance site sits currently on three residential acres, which have to be rezoned for the bottler's use.

Coca-Cola United officials have repeatedly said that Chattanooga is just one of a handful of cities in the running to receive this expansion. And working against the city, they say, is its lack of available industrial land.

"We've been here for 115 years and hope to grow here," said Darren Hodges, vice president of Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Company, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Bottling Company United, Inc., based in Birmingham, Ala.

"But," Hodges added, "we're having a hard time finding industrial property in Hamilton County that can accommodate this expansion."

Last month, he said the company's Amnicola Highway facility is as big as it's going to get. And that leaves it needing to acquire more land, somewhere strategic to the company's distribution map.

Hodges has not been shy about his desire to see Chattanooga get the expansion. But Hodges and other company officials have remained verbally non-committal, insisting that the expansion will go somewhere else, potentially across state lines, if its needs can't be met here.

City officials are trying to avoid that.

With a handful of Coca-Cola Bottling officials in the crowd at Tuesday's City Council committee meeting, council members lauded the idea of the bottler expanding in Chattanooga. No one spoke out against the project.

"Great project," said Russell Gilbert, district 5 councilman. "I'm really looking forward to it."

Carol Berz, councilwoman from district 6 -- home of the targeted Olan Mills property -- has been actively working to get the expansion. She had few words Tuesday but spoke adamantly at last month's planning commission meeting about the project.

  • photo
    The Birmingham, Ala.-based Coca-Cola Bottling Company United may build a 290,000-square-foot distribution and sales facility at the former Olan Mills plant Highway 153.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce officials have also been verbally supportive of Coca-Cola Bottling United's building their new facility here.

"Certainly from a Chamber perspective, this is a tremendous project for Chattanooga and Hamilton County," said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chamber.

He praised Coca-Cola United leaders for their willingness to jump through hoops in pursuit of the Olan Mills property.

"This project is a little more complicated than a lot of our economic development projects are," he said. "Usually, if a site not already zoned, [companies] are not even going to look at it."

According to a Chamber news release, Coke United currently has 487 employees in Chattanooga. The Amnicola Highway facility will remain open, even if the expansion opens across town, and 203 employees will remain there. The others, plus 43 new hires, will staff the new facility.

The decision to rezone the properties needed for the bottler's potential truck entrance off W. Shepard Road goes before the City Council next week.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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