One of Chattanooga's biggest past manufacturing sites is being redeveloped for a future light industrial, warehouse and office development in a planned $100 million complex that Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said should provide a major asset for the city in attracting more jobs and industry.
A Chattanooga development firm, Rise Partners, is planning to build the North River Commerce Park on a portion of the former DuPont plant where more than 5,000 employees once worked producing industrial nylon at one of Chattanooga's biggest employers.
DuPont ultimately shut down its Hixson plant in 2015 after nearly 60 years of production, although some of the complex was sold to Invista and later Kordsa, which continue to operate smaller nylon operations.
RP Access LLC, an affiliate of the Chattanooga-based development firm Rise Partners, has optioned to buy 88 acres of parking lots and other land now owned by Kordsa to develop a new industrial park to capitalize on the current shortage of industrial and warehousing facilities in Chattanooga. The proposed development will include four new industrial buildings, each with more than 180,000 square feet of space, plus another 26.4 acres for future development.
Kelly said the project has the potential to create up to 600 direct jobs, not including additional indirect jobs and construction work. As part of the agreement, the developer is also in talks to preserve additional land along the river for green space.
"At a time when Chattanooga has lost potential employers because of the lack of Class A industrial space, this project represents a major stride toward attracting good-paying jobs, while at the same time taking steps toward a more sustainable future," Kelly said in an announcement of his support for redirecting some property taxes to finance infrastructure for the new development. "I'm particularly thankful for [Hamilton County Mayor] Jim Coppinger's partnership on this project, which would not have moved forward without the support of both the city and county."
The project will represent one of the biggest new additions to Chattanooga's industrial site inventory since the Enterprise South Industrial Park was developed two decades ago and comes at a time when industrial vacancies are near historic lows in the city, according to real estate experts.
At present, Rise Partners has an option to buy vacant property on both sides of North Access Road currently owned by Kordsa. The option will be converted into a purchase when a tax financing agreement is complete.
Matt Phillips, a managing partner for Rise Partners, said the property is well located in the middle of Hamilton County with road, rail, highway and river access. But on a property originally developed by DuPont shortly after World War II, there are sewer and power lines to relocate and upgrade and other infrastructure improvements that need to be made to accommodate additional development in the area.
The industrial park at a glance
Name: North River Commerce. Location: 88 acres at 4513 North Access Road near the Kordsa plant, previously operated by Dupont. Developer: RP Access LLC, a partnership formed by Rising Partners. Project: Five buildings will be built on 800,000 square feet of industrial and warehouse space adjacent to the Kordsa plant. Schedule: Developers hope to purchase the property and start initial construction by the end of the year. Website: www.northrivercommerce.com.
"This is a great site that is already zoned for manufacturing and has access to a strong labor market and transportation network, but there are challenges developing on a site with 70-year-old infrastructure and there are a tremendous amount of public improvements that need to be made there for this project," Phillips said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It was designed for a single user, which was DuPont through most of the history of this site. But to accommodate multiple users, we need to make a number of utility and infrastructure improvements."
Phillips said Rise Partners is talking with a number of prospective tenants for the development, including both new businesses to Chattanooga and existing businesses looking to expand. But he said it is too early to make any announcements about specific company users.
"The activity on this park has been robust, and we're eager to get started with the construction of the first facilities, hopefully by this fall if everything moves ahead as we hope," he said. "This is one of the few sites in East Tennessee that can provide 100 megawatts of power because of the infrastructure that was originally put in place for DuPont. But there are still some real challenges to this site."
To help pay for needed infrastructure upgrades, Rise Partners is seeking an agreement with the city and county to recapture a portion of the extra property tax revenues generated by the new development to pay for such development costs.
The Chattanooga Industrial Development Board will consider the tax agreement Monday and, if approved, the plan will then move to a vote on the tax agreement by the Chattanooga City Council and the Hamilton County Commission.
Under the agreement, the city and county would give back much of the increased property taxes that the development would create to allow the developer to help finance the project and its infrastructure to bring in new business and jobs. Ellis Smith, director of special projects in the mayor's office, said in an announcement Tuesday that the city will spend no cash as part of the deal. Rather, Smith said, the city is enabling the project to take place by giving back a portion of the increase in taxes that occurs as a result of improvements to the site.
Hamilton County will designate the regular amount of new tax revenue - 45.2% - to support schools, with the rest going toward the project. The city and county will begin collecting 100% of both existing and new tax revenue once $10 million in incremental revenue has gone back to the project, Smith said.
"This is a great opportunity for the city to move a much-needed industrial project forward without giving up current tax revenue, allowing the site to fuel itself through its own growth," Jermaine Freeman, senior adviser for economic opportunity and interim administrator for the Chattanooga Department of Economic Development, said in a statement Tuesday. "Much like Enterprise South, which attracted Volkswagen by incorporating both a green space and a developed industrial space, this project can stimulate the creation of modern industrial jobs that are critical to Chattanooga's future."
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.