Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the McDonald Farm site will need an on- and off-ramp and other infrastructure such as water and sewer before it's ready to attract lots of jobs.
"The economic development piece won't come quickly," he told several hundred people at Sale Creek High School on Thursday during an update on the 2,170-acre parcel nearby which the county purchased for $16 million in December. "It takes years to put in infrastructure."
At the same time, Coppinger said that "hopefully, it will turn into one of the most talked-about industrial parks in the state."
"We've got to be selective about who goes there and what it will do for the community," he said.
But in the meantime, Coppinger said the county plans to make the tract off U.S. Highway 27 available for public use. For example, he said, the house can serve as a location for corporate retreats or weddings, and concerts could be held on the property.
McDonald Farm site forum
On April 16, plans are to open the farm for public activities, including a vintage league baseball game and kid-friendly activities, the mayor said.
In addition, there are a lot of opportunities to use some of the property for recreational green space.
Coppinger said that part of the land not usable for economic development could hold a solar farm.
"Companies like that," he said, adding it could help attract offices or other uses.
The mayor mentioned ultimately landing a company headquarters.
"I'm confident we'll get that one day," he said. "It would be great for a tech company."
Coppinger said there are up-and-coming companies that may indicate they want all the property that's available for creating jobs.
He said he's already spoken to Gov. Bill Lee about the property and its needs. Bob Rolfe, Tennessee's commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, wants to look at the site.
Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, R-Soddy-Daisy, told the group that the McDonald family could have sold the property to private developers, who might have put whatever they wanted without seeking public input.
"That was a good possibility," Fairbanks said.
Coppinger said with the size of the McDonald Farm tract, there's an opportunity to put a buffer between whatever companies go into the site and the surrounding area.
"That's what we did at Enterprise South," he said about the nearly 7,000-acre industrial park in Tyner that now holds Volkswagen's assembly plant, an Amazon distribution center and other companies.
Depending on what ventures land at the farm, wages for workers could hit $60,000 to $70,000 a year, the mayor said, and even go higher by the time the site is ready for business.
Stephen Baker of Soddy-Daisy, part of the group at the high school, said in an interview after the presentation that he was glad to hear Coppinger say that it's unlikely there would be an auto assembly plant at the site.
"I didn't want one. Too much traffic," he said.
Dale Vandergriff of Sale Creek said he left the meeting knowing there's a lot of work to be done on the land.
"It's going to be awhile," he said in an interview.
James and Kitty McDonald first settled in the area at the foot of Walden's Ridge in 1821, according to the farm's website. From that point forward, the farm has been continuously owned and operated by members of the McDonald family.
Roy McDonald started the Chattanooga Free Press in 1933. The Free Press eventually was sold in 1998 to WEHCO Media and merged with The Chattanooga Times the following year, creating the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.