Photo above: The 30-acre portion of Partnership Park II in Bristol slated for grading work is highlighted in this rendering, courtesy NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership.
By Scott Robertson
After hosting presentations from NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership and the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership (NeTREP) , the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced in March it will award a total of $2 million in Site Development Grants to three Northeast Tennessee projects.
Partnership Park II (PPII) on Highway 394 in Bristol will receive the largest grant, $1 million, to pay for grading work to create rail access and a pad site for a transloading facility. The Tri-Cities Airport Aerospace Park project will receive $500,000 to help prepare a pad-ready site for an aircraft maintenance hangar. NETWORKS lobbied for those grants. The town of Erwin will receive $500,000 for grading and other work at the Second Street Industrial Site near Interstate 81.
NETWORKS has been discussing the possibility of grading the PPII site and building a facility for loading from rail to truck, or vice versa, on the site for some time. Clay Walker, NETWORKS CEO, said, “We do have companies who are always looking for warehouse space that they can take from one mode of transportation to another, whether it be incoming or outgoing. Having said that, I still believe the most likely end-use of this site will be good old traditional economic development – recruit a company that needs rail and hopefully will employ a lot of folks.”
The grant funds will be used to grade 30 acres of the 200+ acre site’s terrain, which Walker describes as, “challenging and hilly.” At its highest point, the ground is 30 feet higher than the level of the existing rail line. “The end product will be a flat site ready to put the rail infrastructure in,” Walker said. The nature of that infrastructure will be determined by the needs of the eventual tenant.
The $500,000 grant for Aerospace Park will help grade the land for a business park on land at the Tri-Cities Airport. The airport authority has now raised more than $13.5 million of the $17+ million needed to fully grade that site.
In Erwin, Tyler Engle, director of the Unicoi County Economic Development Board, said a good deal of work has already been done on the 15-acre Second Street site, formerly known as the Morgan Insulation site. “The city (which owns the site) has invested quite a lot and the TVA has also invested through InvestPrep,” Engle said. “The Morgan plant was demolished last year. There was also a large silo that held silica that was demolished in February. What we’re hoping to do is to create a single pad-ready, 150,000-square-foot site ready to pour concrete on.” The site, roughly a quarter mile from Interstate 26, also has rail service, Engle said. “The grant also will make it possible for us to do due diligence on another part of the site for a potential 60,000-square-foot expansion.”
Engle credited a portion of the success to Erwin’s work with NETREP. “We knew that Washington County had been successful in a Site Development Grant application a year or two ago, and we work really closely with Washington County through our partnership. Alicia Summers (NeTREP vice president, business development) actually accompanied me to Nashville when we made our presentation. We’re working to build a regional economy instead of just focusing on one county or another.”
The grants are intended to help rural communities overcome barriers to site certification and prepare them to receive an economic development project that creates jobs. These funds assist communities in finalizing infrastructure and engineering improvements for project-ready certified sites. The Site Development Grant program is part of the larger Rural Economic Opportunity Act passed in 2016 and updated in 2017.
Almost $10 million in Site Development Grants are being awarded to projects in 25 Tennessee communities. “By making our rural communities ready for investment and economic success, we help them attract jobs and more opportunities for citizens,” Governor Bill Haslam said. “I congratulate the Site Development Grant program recipients and look forward to watching as they thrive and bring new businesses to our state.”