Developer unveils plans for Knoxville Center Mall site

While we still don’t know if Amazon is headed to Knoxville, we know the proposed demolition of Knoxville Center Mall and construction of a yet-unnamed e-commerce fulfillment center would cost at least $70 million.

Real estate developer Hillwood Enterprises is requesting a rezoning of the 78-acre property in East Knoxville; it has developed similar centers for both Amazon and Wayfair in the past.

A representative for Hillwood spoke publicly for the first time about the project. Here’s what we learned.

Proposed plan for two large buildings

Hillwood executive Kurt Nelson revealed a two building preliminary site plan.

The property, which includes the mall and surrounding parking lot, would include a 110,000- and 280,000-square-foot building.

The buildings would be about 60 feet tall.

Nelson shared examples of similar projects Hillwood has developed, which typically are painted concrete, like the Airport Business Park in Nashville.

The property would include professionally installed and maintained landscaping and a few gated access points.

There would not be a retail component to the property.

Although the purchase would include the perimeter road around the mall, Nelson said the road would remain open for residents and customers heading to perimeter businesses like Southeastern Salvage and Wendy’s.

Jobs number, descriptions vague

Nelson was vague on the number of positions the facility would create, but said “mid-to-upper 100s of jobs.”

Nelson said he couldn’t get into details about the types of jobs or wages to be expected, but that as a fulfillment center jobs would vary from forklift operators to managers and would pay market wages.

The developer and operator evaluated several sites around Knox County; the proximity to a quality work force was a major draw for the Knoxville Center Mall property.

Aggressive timeline

Hillwood is hoping for final approval from Knoxville City Council in December.

After Knoxville-Knox County Planning evaluates the proposal Oct. 8, it will be subject to two readings at council.

If council approves, Hillwood would aim to both obtain a site permit and demolish the mall property in February 2021, begin construction in April 2021 and complete the building in March 2022.

Nelson said it is too early in the process to say for sure, but there could be ways to reuse some of the concrete and steel from the mall structure.

Planned for consumer goods tenant

Hillwood attorney Benjamin Mullins said the project is for a specific operator, not a speculative build.

The warehouse would house “consumer goods,” and would “need to be able to be a 24-hour operation,” according to Nelson.

“It’s a company that is well respected, it’s not a fly-by-night operation,” Nelson said.

Traffic, sound and light will be studied

The other appeal of the site was proximity to I-640. But community members reiterated concerns about traffic patterns and the major challenges neighbors would encounter with the addition of tractor trailers.

Multiple community members and leaders urged Hillwood to direct truck access to the property by way of North Mall Road, not Millertown Pike, which is already prone to heavy traffic.

Hillwood is working with TDOT and a traffic consultant to study the impact of traffic from the proposed development on 14 nearby intersections.

“We recognize that we as the owner and our customer as the operator of these buildings, they need the traffic flow to work,” Nelson said.

“None of us are interested in investing this level of capital into a project if the traffic levels don’t work.”

Nelson said the firm will hire an engineer to study the effects of noise and lighting on the surrounding communities and are committed to meeting limits set by the city.

To address sound, especially for the Easttowne Village Apartments overlooking the mall, the developer might add sound walls or increase vegetation, depending on the results of the study.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Brenna McDermott

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Published October 1, 2020