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Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / Members of the Silvey Metal Works team along with Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger break ground during a ceremony for the company's new manufacturing plant at Centre South Riverport last December.

Centre South Riverport is down to its last parcel, a 10-acre tract that's hard to access, as Hamilton County looks at making an offer within a month for the McDonald Farm in the northern part of Hamilton County to hold its next big industrial park.

"Certainly when communities undertake acquiring and building out infrastructure for an industrial park, it's a long-term strategy. That was the case at Centre South," said Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development.

Development of the 300-acre Riverport off Amnicola Highway began in the 1980s by Hamilton County government. Japanese chemicals maker NA Industries was the first company to locate in the park, according to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

The site is served by a 2,400-foot fleeting area for public use of the general cargo docks as well as rail access from Norfolk Southern Railway.

While the industrial park is nearly full with companies ranging from a steel processor to chemical manufacturers to a medical device maker, Wood said that few businesses actually use the Tennessee River.

"It's not proven to be critical," he said, adding that there's still a competitive dynamic between river and rail use that allows companies to manage costs.

Wood said it's not just the Riverport where Hamilton County is running short on industrial park space. Enterprise South in Tyner, which more than a decade ago landed auto giant Volkswagen and then fulfillment company Amazon, is filling up.

At Enterprise South, a former U.S. Army ammunition-making site, there's a 10-acre parcel, Wood said. In addition, there are 200 to 300 acres which VW agreed to free up out of its holdings, though that has been seen as earmarked for automotive-related uses. Also, VW still has close to 1,000 acres under option.

Late last year, the idea arose of the county purchasing the 2,170-acre McDonald Farm in Sale Creek off of U.S. Highway 27. The owners of the farm have floated a price tag of $15.39 million for the site, part of which sits in neighboring Rhea County.

Mike Dunne, a spokesman for Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, said this week that while no offer has been made for the land, one is anticipated within a month.

"The county is continuing to do its due diligence," he said. "We remain in contact with the McDonald family."

Wood has said that while the farm lacks a sewer line, which would have to be run to the site, there is highway and rail access.

"The Chamber would be very excited to see the property used for that use," he said. "There's really a pretty significant amount of impact that could happen. What you could create is another regional employment center."

But in the meantime, as available industrial land becomes more of a challenge in Hamilton County, the Chamber is prioritizing local companies, Wood said.

He cited Nichols Fleet Equipment, which last month unveiled plans to buy nine acres at the Riverport.

David Nichols, president of the Chattanooga-based company that installs and customizes truck-mounted equipment such as cranes, bodies, welders and air compressors on vehicle chassis, said it's planning a 40,000-square-foot facility on the site and aims to double its workforce.

Also, Southern Champion Tray, a longtime local business that makes products including food sleeves, trays, window boxes, and cupcake inserts, plans to invest nearly $85 million in a new manufacturing plant at the Riverport on a 54.6-acre site.

Also last year, Chattanooga's Silvey Metal Works broke ground at a 2.7-acre parcel at the Riverport, where it plans to grow the business in a $2.5 million project.

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

Roy McDonald took what he learned running the Home Stores and started the Chattanooga Free Press in 1933, which originated as a weekly newsletter featuring stories, comics, and advertisements for the Home Stores. Within three years, he had turned his company's newsletter into a daily newspaper.

The Chattanooga 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 mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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