Investments to help new downtown development
Various individuals and companies are pitching in money to help develop new businesses near Wilson Street.
Community Development Director Wayne Blasius, a member of Oak Ridge city staff, spoke about these donations and other moves toward a downtown Oak Ridge at a virtual Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday, Aug. 24.
“This is about development of our tax base, as well as a fun place to be,” he told the online audience.
He explained the Oak Ridge Land Bank is looking for developers for vacant lot property it owns on and near Wilson Street. The Land Bank is offering about 6.5 acres of vacant property at the eastern end of the Wilson Street area, near the Japanese restaurant Kume.
Blasius talked about individuals and companies who had helped the Land Bank with funds “to help finance land and improvements in our new downtown.”
He said Oak Ridge residents Pat Postma and Sue Byrne had started an investment effort to raise local investment capital from citizens and encouraged people to contact them for more information. He said the project is focused “on community improvement more than financial return.”
He said their efforts led to nearly $500,000 in loans from individuals.
On top of that, he said, federal contractor UCOR had donated a $100,000 lead grant, and an anonymous resident had provided another $100,000 grant.
During his talk, Blasius spoke positively of the level of interest in development in the area. He spoke of the recent Toast the Town event earlier this month, which he said brought in people of “all shapes and sizes” interested in the development.
The request for proposals was published on the city’s website on Aug. 6. Blasius said Charlie Jernigan with the Land Bank will accept proposals until Oct. 8.
He said “mulitiple, potentially interested developers” had attended a meeting on Aug. 23 either virtually or in person to learn more about the “dreams” and expectations for downtown developers at another Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce meeting. He did not share the developers’ names.
The city recently promoted downtown development in a news release.
“Over the decades, multiple plans have called for creating such a place — where Oak Ridgers can live, work and play. The Wilson Street corridor, bordering Main Street shopping near the new American Museum of Science & Energy (AMSE) and planned conference center, and easily accessible from the Turnpike and A.K. Bissell Park, provides a great opportunity to finally have a distinctive, uniquely Oak Ridge place for people to gather. The existence of a more urban, densely-developed environment, featuring apartments, condos, restaurants, local shops, offices and beautiful green space, will attract new and different businesses to Oak Ridge,” the city news release stated.
During his talk to the Chamber of Commerce, Blasius said such a downtown will draw people looking for technology jobs to come to Oak Ridge rather than other cities.
At the same time, he said, the development needs to be uniquely Oak Ridge. At this presentation and others, he spoke about trying to incorporate designs such as atoms and DNA strands into crosswalk areas to emphasize the importance of science to Oak Ridge.
“Oak Ridge has a unique historical image, but not physical image, distinct from other communities with brand name retailers along their arterials,” Blasius said in his presentation.
Blasius also spoke of “pedestrian connectivity” in the new district near Wilson Street.
Noelle Consulting Group from Atlanta did a study of what Blasius called at an earlier talk “realistic new land uses” in the Wilson Street area. Over a five-year period, the study projected a possible new 30,000 square feet of dining and entertainment, 88 new attached condominiums for sale and 150 rental multi-family apartment units. The total tax revenue, both sales and property, generated over that five-year period would be $5,0423,495, the study projected.
Ben Pounds is a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.