A year after East Ridge city officials announced a proposed major shopping complex off Interstate 75, the City Council has taken the next small steps toward breaking ground.
Chattanooga-based developers Wolftever Development and East Ridge officials want to turn 58 acres along the interstate and Camp Jordan into "Jordan Crossing," a 329,912-square-foot development that they say could pump $2.17 million in tax revenues into the city each year, according to initial estimates.
Before any of that can happen, though, a game of musical chairs must take place.
East Ridge must buy 37 acres of the land from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, then Wolftever Development must buy those acres as well as the remaining 21 acres from East Ridge.
On Oct. 18, state officials sent a letter to the city, agreeing to sell the land if the city paid appraisal costs of about $4,000. The East Ridge City Council voted Thursday night to approve spending the money, but not without some worry that the whole proposal is a gamble.
"I walked that property," Councilman Jim Bethune said during the council's agenda session Thursday. "There's about 30 little streams with frogs jumping everywhere. If we purchase it ... there's no obligation from [developers] whatsoever to buy it."
A major portion of the land is in a flood plain, and East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble said it's too early to determine who would foot the bill to raise the height of the property before construction could start.
The city must proceed cautiously once it's in a position to buy and sell the land, Gobble said, but added that all parties are at a stalemate until the appraisal is conducted.
"I don't think it's going to bankrupt us just to determine what the land's value is -- and no one's going to make a move until then," he said during Thursday's meeting.
Wolftever Development owner Matt Wood said original ideas for the property include chain retail stores and restaurants, but he said it's still too early to have any specifics.
"It's still very much an 'out-there' development," Wood said Monday. "The only stores we have contacted about the property have said, 'That's a nice piece of property, but you all don't have a price yet.'"
The council's vote to approve the appraisal aligned with a vote to create a 950-acre "retail district," which will encompass the property eyed by Wolftever.
A law passed by the Tennessee Legislature this summer allows cities within 12 miles of a state border and one-half mile from an interstate exit to create a retail district. The provision allows a city to take in 75 percent of the state sales tax generated within the district's borders.
"The law wasn't written for East Ridge, but the city fits into it perfectly," said Mayor Brent Lambert.
Gobble said the city was not even aware of the law until a developer who saw the law applied in Kingsport, Tenn., approached East Ridge officials about it.
"It wasn't originally on our radar, but it could be a real gamechanger for the city of East Ridge," he said.
The newly approved district is along Ringgold and Germantown roads, as well as around exit 1 on I-75. The Tennessee commissioner of revenue still must approve the district.
For the sales tax incentives to kick in, a "triggering event" has to occur, according to Lambert. Such an event must take the form of an attraction that costs $20 million to build, draw 1 million visitors a year and pays the state back $2 million in tax revenue a year, he said.
At Thursday's meeting, Lambert insinuated that the Wolftever proposal could be the "triggering event" needed to activate the incentives for East Ridge.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@times freepress.com or 423-757-6673.