Chattanooga Airport, BlueCross sites eyed for more industrial park space

Chattanooga Airport, BlueCross sites eyed for more industrial park space

September 6th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Grading work continues at the new Archer Daniels Midland Sweetener Terminal in the Enterprise South industrial park.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Blue Cross land

Blue Cross land

Airport land

Airport land

While Chattanooga and Hamilton County officials look to assemble more industrial park space, two large tracts are already in play as potential sites.

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport officials said they want to develop a 50-acre site adjacent to its main runway as a business park.

Meanwhile, north of the Tennessee River, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is pitching to prospective office or industrial prospects about 210 acres in Lupton City belonging to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

City economic development and other officials say that more industrial park space is needed to compete with rival cities in the Southeast and to woo added business.

Only two of the existing seven public industrial parks in Hamilton County have space available. Those sites with uncommitted space, including Enterprise South industrial park, offer less than a total of 140 acres.

"It has gotten to the point of being critical," said Tom Kale Jr., president of Chattanooga real estate firm Commercial Associates, about the need for new land to hold companies.

The proposed airport business park, included in Lovell Field's new master plan, could be used for offices as well as a high-end hotel and restaurant.

Christina Siebold of the Chattanooga Metro Airport Authority

Christina Siebold of the Chattanooga Metro Airport Authority

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold said the airport already owns about 25 acres in the area between Brainerd Road, Airport Road, Jubilee Drive and the runway. More property acquisition and the development of the business park was put at no less than $13 million by the airport.

To accumulate land the airport doesn't now own would require purchase of nearby commercial and residential property, Siebold said.

While the master plan pegs the development as 15 to 20 years out, the timeline could be speeded up if money were available, she said.

"If the demand presented itself and the city and county asked for our assistance and wanted to partner on the development, we would certainly do everything we could to make that a success," Siebold said.

City and county mayors have declined to say what locations they're pursuing as potential industrial park space. County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he fears the price would go up if sites were named.

BlueCross site

The BlueCross parcel, which the Chattanooga-based insurer acquired in 2002 from Dixie Group, is already for sale, said company spokeswoman Mary Danielson.

She said the location, which isn't listed by a real estate company and has no published asking price, has 3,300 lineal feet frontage on the Tennessee River. For a time, the tract was considered by BlueCross officials as a location for its corporate campus. But the insurer built its headquarters on Cameron Hill downtown.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chamber's vice president for marketing, said the land is marketed routinely to prospective companies.

But selling it for an industrial park would be BlueCross' decision, he said.

"We are in the business of marketing the area for investment and expansions," Marston said. "When it comes to talking about an individual piece of property currently in privately held hands, we defer to the owner."

Concerning potential industrial park space, Danielson added that another 11-acre tract holding the former R.L. Stowe textile plant is on the market as well. The Stowe mill, near the insurer's Lupton City property, closed in 2009.

airport tract

Tom Kale, president of Commercial Associates

Tom Kale, president of Commercial Associates

Kale said that while he applauds the plan the airport has concerning a business park, the site could be made a lot larger. Ideally, he said, about everything off Airport Road from Lee Highway to the airport should be acquired for development. That would include scores of houses as well as a mobile home park.

Kale estimated the entire site could be enlarged to 150 acres.

He said airport officials tell him that they regularly receive inquiries from companies wanting proximity to Lovell Field, but there's little space to offer.

"We know the Amazon stuff is going to cause an increase in cargo traffic," Kale said. "FedEx or UPS eventually is going to build a terminal."

FedEx announced in August that it's expanding at the airport by flying larger aircraft and leasing hangar space for the first time. Amazon is building a 1 million-square-foot distribution center at Enterprise South industrial park.

Siebold said the area in the existing 50 acres was the recommended location for the business park in the master plan, which doesn't include properties on Airport Road.

She also said there are no immediate plans to begin acquiring property.

Concerning the BlueCross site, Kale said it has potential as industrial park space. He said a better entrance to the parcel than Lupton Drive might be connecting to nearby Access Road or DuPont Parkway.

The site has rail and barge access, Kale said.

He suggested the city and county be proactive about finding more industrial park space to help generate job creation.

"We've got a limited about of land that's not topographically challenged," Kale said, referring to the area's hills and mountains.

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