Cooper: Mill property amy be potential bonanza, but...

Cooper: Mill property amy be potential bonanza, but...

January 18th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Mayor Andy Berke talks earlier this month about plans to clean up the former R.L. Stowe Mills site in Lupton City.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

The $1.5 million cleanup costs of the 12-acre site of a former yarn mill in Lupton City could be a bargain for the city, but the city doesn't own the property.

That made the recent news conference about possibilities at the site by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is running for re-election in March, a little curious.

The out-of-state owners, Lupton City LLC, owe $120,000 in back taxes on the property and have until July 1 to pay them. If they are not paid, the city would take possession of the property.

Since Berke planned the event, he is probably aware the limited liability company is not likely to pay the back taxes. And he is undoubtedly aware of the property's potential.

The property is just over five miles from City Hall, which means any residential use of the cleared and clay-capped property would be valuable with easy access to downtown.

Initially, the reclaimed property would bring a nice price to the city from a real estate developer. Then, anything built on the property — apartments, condos, smaller houses emblematic of the community, larger houses, McMansions — would be on the city tax rolls.

The city would work with the Lupton City neighborhood to determine exactly what the best use of the site would be, a spokeswoman for Berke said.

Perhaps the smokestack of the former Dixie Mercerizing Co./Dixie Yarns/R.L. Stowe Mills businesses, which date from a property purchase in 1920 to the mill closing in 2009, could be left in place to remind any future neighborhood of the area's former life. Such will be the case in East Lake, where the iconic water tower from the former Standard-Coosa-Thatcher mill — now planned to be converted to loft apartments — will be left in place.

Whatever the ultimate use of the property is, the city's potential investment of demolishing the remaining buildings, clearing away rubble and capping the land against environmental hazards would be easily recouped.

That only leaves the timing.

For Berke, it makes campaign sense to give residents a sniff of what could happen in a second term to a piece of property that's currently an eyesore. But the campaign wasn't mentioned at the news conference.

He did say the administration over the next few years would be doing a "brownfield focus." That's, of course, if he is re-elected. In the meantime, Lupton City residents know what the possibilities are for their own personal brownfield. If it comes to the city, that is.

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