New developer taking over Main Street Oak Ridge project

(Information from Oak Ridge Today through information-sharing agreement) In a surprising turn of events, it was announced Monday by the property owners that RealtyLink, a Greenville, South Carolina-based real estate development firm, will replace Crosland Southeast as the master developer of the 60-acre Main Street town center project in Oak Ridge.

The announcement came as a surprise to Oak Ridge officials, some of whom met with the new developers last week. Mayor Warren Gooch took the opportunity to welcome RealtyLink while expressing to them the critical importance of project to the community and the expectation that the project will continue on schedule, a press release said.

Neil Wilson, a principal with RealtyLink, indicated that his firm intents to move forward quickly with the same plan and same tenant mix as had been previously proposed, according to the press release.

We continue to be committed to the community and to the tenants with the goal being completing the first phase in time for the Christmas season 2016,” Wilson said. “We look forward to working with the community in an effort to develop a truly great town center for the city.”

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the project is still on track. In the meeting on Thursday, he explained the city’s interest in the project and its concerns, and the new developer had good responses, Watson said. He said the city has been pleased with the Crosland design, and RealtyLink will “pick that up” and proceed with it.

Watson said these types of changes often occur as projects move forward and get close to construction.

City officials said there shouldn’t be any significant changes required in the approvals already granted to the project by Oak Ridge, Anderson County, and the Industrial Development Board.

This project is ready to move forward,” Watson said. “Unless there is some kind of substantial change, we are in good shape.”

As proposed, Main Street Oak Ridge would redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall in a $80 million project that could include a mix of retail, restaurants, and residential units, possibly including a hotel. The vacant enclosed space between the two remaining anchors, JCPenney and Belk, would be demolished, although those two stores would remain.

Crosland Southeast has spent significant time on the project during the past few years, including to gain approval of a $13 million tax increment financing, or TIF, package that would help cover development costs using new property tax revenues generated at the site. The change in property taxes in a designated economic impact area would be used to repay the TIF loan.

We’re continuing to move forward with all of our analysis under the assumption that the TIF can still be utilized in its current form,” said David Bradshaw, Oak Ridge city president for CapitalMark Bank and Trust, the lead bank in the TIF lending group. The group also includes TNBank and First National Bank of Tennessee.

Bradshaw said the group would take direction from the city or developer if that changes. He said the new developer appears to be an outstanding company, but the financial institutions need to be comfortable. The analysis of the new developer could be complete in a few days, Bradshaw said.

A site plan for Main Street Oak Ridge was approved by the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission in August, and officials said then that an application had been submitted for a demolition permit.

Some other details weren’t immediately clear, such as who requested the developer change; how it might affect project lending, if at all; and whether Crosland Southeast might still be involved in some way. While a few residents expressed disappointment at the news of the change in developer, officials and those involved with the project, including in Oak Ridge, expressed continued optimism, pointing to RealtyLink’s other projects, including one in Sevierville, which they said has about 150,000 to 175,000 square feet of retail. That’s about the same as the new retail envisioned at Main Street Oak Ridge.

Our partners at Oak Ridge Today report that Crosland is “sorely disappointed” that it won’t be able to finish it. Company officials told ORT that it has been engaged in more than “two years of tireless work,” and the project was in its final stages. “This was one of the most difficult turnaround developments that we have encountered or seen, and we are sorely disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to finish what we started,” said Tim Sittema, managing partner of Crosland Southeast. “We had just negotiated the last piece of an incredibly complicated project with numerous moving parts, and had invested well over a million dollars into making this project a success. The situation is complicated. Nevertheless, we hope for the best outcome for the community of Oak Ridge. We have very much enjoyed working with city staff and community leaders.”

Asked whether Crosland Southeast is working on a transition with the current owner or the new developer, Sittema said in a press release, “we are in early discussions with the apparent new developer, who has made a positive initial impression.”

For much more on this story, visit our partners at Oak Ridge Today online at www.oakridgetoday.com.

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