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In the midst of one of the most significant periods of economic and retail development in its history, East Ridge is currently without a city manager and a city treasurer. But elected officials want residents to know that the plan is coming together.

Bass Pro Shops is finally under construction, a new three-story La Quinta Inn just opened off Exit 1 and a new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery store and fueling bay will open on Ringgold Road next week. A Zaxby's is also slated to open near the Bass Pro Shops site.

Mayor Brent Lambert said at the onset of last week's regular meeting that with all the cited developments and announcements lately, "lots of good things are happening" and "we're excited about the future."

Following up the thought, Vice Mayor and State Rep. Marc Gravitt said during last week's meeting that he wanted to address the people who said the re-development of Exit 1 and construction of Bass Pro Shops would never happen.

"For all the nay-sayers and everything that said that it wasn't going to happen, for those of you who haven't driven by [the Bass Pro Shops construction site], if you haven't seen the walls up, you ought to go down there and look," he said.

Gravitt said the payoff for all the city's spending on development and previous 18 months of growing pains is coming.

"We're spending — we're not spending, we're investing — a tremendous amount of money, and have been over the past year-and-a-half or so, but will come to fruition," he said. "We will get it back, and that's what we're working on."

City leaders have been dogged on the idea that the Border Retail Region Tourism Development District — a special, 980-acre swath of land of the state line intended to keep big developments in Tennessee — will be a game changer for the city.

They stood by the belief even when it meant unexpectedly paying TDOT $600,000 to acquire the property formerly occupied by a city fire hall, and which is now part of the Bass Pro Shops development. The city also guaranteed the first $4 million of tax incentives for the project.

And now, city leaders are trying to keep their focus on the big picture as they attempt to get the widening of Camp Jordan Parkway going to serve the new retail development at Exit 1. Officials rejected a first round of bids earlier this year when they came in too expensive, because the plans — drawn up by the Bass Pro Shops developers — were too elaborate and were going to cost more than $2 million.

Officials went back and re-worked the project's specs to be simpler, and cheaper, then resubmitted the invitation to bid and opened two bids last week during a regular city meeting.

Brown Bros., Inc. entered a bid of $1.8 million.

Talley Construction entered a bid of $1.9 million.

Normally, municipalities are obligated to accept low bids. But Councilman Jacky Cagle said since the city recently had a bad experience with Tripp Brown, one of the co-owners of Brown Bros., Inc., while trying to strike a land deal, he recommended against picking Brown Bros. for the Camp Jordan Parkway project.

Gravitt backed him up, and the council voted to draw up a resolution with the intention of awarding the project to Talley Construction.

But at a special-called meeting on Tuesday, it was revealed that Tripp Brown didn't actually own the land he was accused of giving the city trouble over during negotiations. Brown had simply represented his uncle, Richard Brown, at a city meeting for discussion of the deal one time.

And his uncle, who members of the council were unwilling to work with, is not associated with Brown Bros., Inc.

Several members of the council apologized to Brown for erroneously accusing him of lying to the city and going back on his word on the land deal, and the council voted to undo its decision to pick Talley Construction for the job and awarded the contract instead to Brown Bros.

The city had already committed $500,000 out of its street aid fund for the project, and voted Tuesday to dip another $400,000 out of the same pool, combine it with $550,000 from the general fund and throw it all in the $500,000 promised by Hamilton County for the project.

Brown Bros. officials said Tuesday they would get started on the project immediately and that the road could be finished by spring.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.

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