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Pellissippi Place planners still committed to initial vision

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The article that follows is the latest in a series of profiles on the parks in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley and their unique roles in accelerating the growth of technology-based enterprises in the region.)

Bryan Daniels, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Blount Partnership, says that plans for Pellissippi Place continue to be focused on its “work there, live there, shop there” concept that was unveiled several years ago.

“The concept has not changed and neither could it change,” Daniels said. The development of the park “has always been a long-term strategy.”

Pellissippi Place’s mission is unique among the region’s business parks in several ways. First, it was designed as a mixed use concept where people can live and work in the same community that also provides retail businesses to meet every day needs. Second, it is a joint effort of four local governments – two cities (Alcoa and Maryville) and two counties (Blount and Knox).

Daniels says that planning started in 2001 when he and other team members visited parks in places like Charlotte, Huntsville, North Atlanta and Raleigh. They learned from the experiences of others and combined the best attributes of those parks into Pellissippi Place.

“None had built retail and residential in their park,” Daniels notes. He also quickly points out that it took Research Triangle Park in North Carolina 17 years to secure its first tenant and Cummings Research Park in Huntsville 10 years.

“We structured our finances in a way that the downturn in the economy has not put pressure on us to be non-selective” and alter the original concept, Daniels said.

He added that site consultants believe companies will soon start shifting dollars that have been used to maintain operations into investments in research and development as the economy improves.

Pellissippi Place has about 350 acres for development. Daniels said 230 acres are allocated for companies in the “R&D niche,” 70 acres for “concentrated residential,” and 55 acres for mixed use retail.

“We can develop 1 million square feet of retail,” he says. The focus is to attract retail enterprises that are not currently in the region to Pellissippi Place rather than mirroring retail in other parts of the Innovation Valley.

Meanwhile, work on a new interchange at the entrance to Pellissippi Place is about ready to begin when the state issues a contract.

And, while Pellissippi Place’s development has been slowed by the economy, Daniels notes that Blount County has landed $112 million in capital investment and 1,300 high wage jobs in the last 20 months. He names First Horizon, Nisus, Royal Metal Powders, Team Health, and Windham Professionals as some of the generators of the new investment and jobs like computer scientists, project managers, accountants, and environmental specialists.

“There’s also another announcement pending,” he proudly adds.

In terms of planning for Pellissippi Place, Daniels said that the site selection and retail consultants engaged to help made a particularly important point at the time.

“They said R&D or residential has to go first,” he noted. “We’re putting our emphasis for now on R&D until the residential market improves.”

Daniels is a natural optimist, and he is encouraged by what he sees just across the Tennessee River at Northshore Town Center. It needed something to jump start its dormant development which occurred in the last year.

“We’re looking for and will find the right catalyst for Pellissippi Place,” he says, adding that “we’ve been close on landing a few big projects” for Pellissippi Place in spite of the economic downturn.

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