Hamilton County seeks to buy McDonald Farm for industrial development

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / McDonald Farm is seen on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Hamilton County Commission will vote next week on purchasing the McDonald Farm in Sale Creek for $16 million.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Wednesday that the county, after more than a year of discussion with the family that owns the farm, is officially looking to buy the 2,170-acre piece of land on the north end of the county.

"We think that this is obviously some of the future of Hamilton County, this piece of property," Coppinger said Wednesday, of the land that would create space for industrial development and other uses, as the growing county runs out of usable development space.

"I think this is something that this county is going to be developing for a number of years, even decades," he said. "And I think the good news is there's opportunity there for mixed use, not just only manufacturing or office buildings or whatever."

McDonald Farm is a sprawling property on the north end of Hamilton County, sitting largely on the Rhea County border, with about 20% over the line. The county hopes to use the land and other incentives to attract businesses and jobs.

The farm is held by family members of the late Roy McDonald, founder of the Chattanooga News-Free Press (now the Times Free Press.)

In the past, McDonald Farm helped supply milk, eggs and other produce to the former Home Stores grocery chain, which "Papa" Frank McDonald started and passed down to his son Roy.

Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy Daisy, whose district includes the farm, said Wednesday that keeping the public involved in discussions about the development was crucial for residents.

"To say that I'm excited about it would be an understatement," Fairbanks said, noting that he's already receiving calls about the property from constituents.

"I've told the residents up there time and again we'll have some meetings, but the best thing we can do is keep the public informed," he said, reiterating that not all of the property will be used for industrial development.

"When we went and toured this place, and gosh it is beautiful, it's gorgeous up there," Fairbanks continued. "But a lot of angst, I guess that's the word, or a lot of reservations from the community is 'Gosh, we've got all this beautiful land and now we're just going to wipe it out with a total industrial site.'

"But that's not what I heard."

(Hamilton County looks to buy McDonald Farm in Sale Creek for industrial park)

While much of the property likely will be developed by businesses, Coppinger said the county is already considering other community-oriented purposes for some pieces of the farm.

"Primarily this will be an opportunity for economic development and creating jobs, and at the same time for us to be environmentally friendly and have green spaces that are usable there as well," he said, later noting that the main house of the property could potentially be reserved as a venue for events.

One thing Coppinger said explicitly is not planned for the property, despite rumors he and Fairbanks have heard in the community, is the development of a wastewater treatment plant.

To make the site work, Coppinger said Wednesday, the county would do some infrastructure improvements but contract sewer services from the city of Dayton, in Rhea County.

Next week, the commission will vote on a resolution allowing Coppinger to enter into final negotiations over the property and to begin a full survey of the land, which should take about 90 days.

"It's going to take a lot of preparation. The infrastructure will have to be brought in. The first thing we'll probably do is increase the size of the water mains, so I don't anticipate there being anything done for a number of years," he said when asked about the timeline for businesses to develop. "But there will be some other uses of the property that we will be talking about."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or [email protected] or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.