On the eve of celebrating 115 years in Chattanooga come July, the Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co. may be interested in expanding its distribution facilities in the city, if it can find a piece of land that's suitable for the purpose.
Darren Hodges, vice president of the company since 2012, on Monday said the bottler is looking at "multiple sites" for the expansion, including the old Olan Mills compound off Highway 153.
And there are out-of-state contenders as well, he said.
The Olan Mills plant site on Shallowford Road near Highway 153 has been on the market since 2012 after the portrait studio business was sold to Lifetouch, a rival photography company, the year before.
The Olan Mills location includes 31.7 acres, with quick access to Highway 153 and Interstates 24 and 75.
Hodges said what really matters to company officials is making sure the distribution expansion is close to the bottler's clients.
And he said Monday that wherever the company does expand, production will stay on-site at the Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co.'s Amnicola Highway facility in Chattanooga, the company's home for 40 years.
Part of the company's challenge in finding a place to grow in Chattanooga stems from a shortage of industry-zoned land in the city.
And that was highlighted during Monday's Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission session.
"The reason, frankly, that [the Olan Mills site] is even being looked at, is basically because we're out of other large, viable manufacturing and kind of large, job-creation sites," said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hodges said later that Wood is exactly right.
"It's well-known we'd like to be in Chattanooga," he said. "There's just a limited number of sites in Chattanooga."
And while there are several determining factors at play, "I can tell you that the biggest issue is land," he said.
Because of the shortage, Hodges said the bottler has looked at even expanding its Amnicola facility. But "this site is just kind of too small," he said.
The Olan Mills compound is already zoned for industrial use.
What brought Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling officials before the planning commission Monday are three acres of land developers want off of W Shepard Road adjacent to the Olan Mills acreage, which would have to be rezoned to legally be used for industrial purposes.
Those three acres lie on two plats of land -- 2125 and 2129 W. Shepard Rd. -- which are zoned for residential use. One is vacant.
Part of what Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling officials would want to do is tie the distribution center's main truck entrance and exit to W.Shepard Road, which would allow delivery drivers to jump on and off Highway 153 quickly.
Planning commissioners voted to approve the rezoning of the lots at 2125 and 2129 W. Shepard Rd. The proposed rezoning must be approved by the City Council, which is expected to take up the request next month.
But it doesn't mean the move is decided, according to Hodges.
"Obviously we want to be in Chattanooga," he said. "But if we can't stay, we can't stay."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.