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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger

This story was updated at 10:53 a.m. on Friday, July 23, 2021, with more information.

Ford Motor Co. is not coming to the McDonald Farm site, nor is a sewer treatment plant or a landfill.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, while quashing those rumors on Thursday, said he'd like to see a corporate headquarters and manufacturing while keeping room for recreation and green space.

"The property has a lot of potential," he told more than 150 people who turned out at Sale Creek High School to learn about the future of the 2,100-acre tract off U.S. Highway 27.

Only about 700 acres are usable for development without a lot of work to make property ready, Coppinger said at the community meeting.

Even then, the parcel lacks sewers, sufficient water, and on and off ramps from the highway, he said.

"It will be a long way to go," the county mayor said, adding that state and federal financial help will be needed to prepare the site for development. "There's not enough infrastructure."

He said Rhea County, in which 300 acres of the farm sit, has reached out about taking care of sewage at the site.

"It's six miles to the plant," Coppinger said. "To Chattanooga its 35 to 40 miles."

Also, he said, there are no plans to tear down the main house. Short-term, Coppinger said, he'd like to focus on agricultural education, hay rides and other type uses as in the past.

Long-term, he said, the property eventually will be developed.

"For me, I'd love to see somebody's headquarters," Coppinger said, citing high-paying jobs.

Earlier this month, the Hamilton County Commission agreed to purchase the farm in Sale Creek for $16 million from the McDonald family after more than a year of discussion.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / McDonald Farm is seen on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020 in Sale Creek, Tenn. It was recently announced that Hamilton County has an interest in purchasing the farm, which is up for sale, in order to build an industrial park on the land.

On Thursday, the mayor faced an array of questions from area residents related to issues such as increased traffic, development in the largely rural area, quality of life, noise and pollution.

In addition, there was a question of the county agreeing to spend $16 million on the land rather than fixing roads.

"The $16 million being invested is a great opportunity," he said. "There's the potential to create jobs and the opportunity for exciting things to happen in the community."

Coppinger said he believes roads around the property will be enhanced.

"Manufacturers are interested in good roads," he said.

Darryl Dietrich, a local resident, said he's OK with developing the site as long as it creates jobs and brings revenue into the county.

"The important thing is bringing in jobs in the area," he said.

Jerry Isaksen, who also lives in the area, said the property opens up a lot of opportunities with proper planning.

He said people need to look at the larger context of what could be possible for the community.

Still, Dianne Barnette of Sale Creek said she's concerned about her community.

"It saddens me. As long as I remember it has always been there," she said about the farm. "Roots run deep. It means a lot to people in the community."

Concerning quality of life, Coppinger said no one will say change isn't coming.

"We've got an opportunity here to do it smart," he said.

Coppinger said modern-day manufacturing isn't like it was at Combustion Engineering or Wheland Foundry years ago.

He said companies such as Volkswagen and Gestamp at Enterprise South industrial park "don't want their neighbors complaining."

Coppinger also said there's an opportunity for biking and horseback riding trails on the property, also citing what has happened at Enterprise South.

"We've always said it should be a mixed-used property," he said.

Also, a solar farm could go on the site tucked away in a location where it wouldn't be noticeable, the mayor said.

Greg Vital, a Hamilton County businessman who is running for the House District 29 seat to succeed the late Rep. Mike Carter, said he's a believer in development and conservation. He said he's sure there is a place for state investment in the site.

County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks told the group to call him if they hear or see rumors about the site.

People at the meeting applauded when officials said they want to be transparent about the land moving ahead.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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