|New Loudon city hall could come soon
Jonathan Herrmann news-herald.net
After discussing possible property acquisitions at a February workshop, Loudon City Council considered Monday a possible price tag for two buildings on U.S. Highway 72.
The former UT Medical office and Capital Bank buildings have been priced for the city at $1.339 million and $589,000, respectively. The UT building could become a new city hall, with the bank building serving as a customer service center for Loudon Utilities Board.
LUB will vote at its March 26 meeting on whether to accept the price and move forward with purchase of the two buildings for about $1.9 million.
Ty Ross, city and utility manager, has also asked council to vote on a resolution agreeing to move into the new city hall facility.
Three of Loudon’s four city councilmen were in favor of the idea, but Councilman Lynn Millsaps opposed the move.
“I think Highway 72 — I know there’s been some promises made, but I think Highway 72 will develop when the traffic becomes high enough and when the population of Loudon is large enough,” Millsaps said. “These companies will develop Highway 72.
Buying these properties and moving the city offices out of the city — and then we’ll have the remodeling expense on top of that and who knows what that is going to be. … It’s going to be a lot of walls torn out and a lot of money spent just to remodel.
“I contend that we should at least get a drawing of an office building, and that drawing can be done in-house, of what we need and get an estimate of what that would cost to build an office building that is designed for Loudon Utilities and the city of Loudon,” he added. “… I guarantee we can do that for less cost than what we’re going to spend.”
A cost for a new structure of similar size was estimated, Ross said. Travis Gray, building inspector and codes enforcement officer for the city, said developers have estimated the cost at $2.65 million and $3.5 million.
“I can’t support buying that property and moving the city and utility offices out of the city of Loudon,” Millsaps said. “If that happens it’s just going to be one more step to take traffic away from our downtown Loudon and you’re going to need to change our directional sign that says visit our historic downtown Loudon to visit ghost town downtown Loudon because there’s not going to be anything left here.”
Councilman Dennis Stewart pointed out that the new location would be within the city limits.
Millsaps responded that he only meant offices would be moved out of downtown.
Johnny James was hesitant of any proposal to build in downtown since it would likely involve the Hutch property that LUB recently purchased. James worried such a move could hinder development opportunities.
LUB will vote March 26 on an agreement with Knoxville-based Partners Development on a feasibility study for the Hutch property for a fee of $17,000.
Partners Development would put together site development plans and work as a liaison with organizations interested in the location.
“With the Hutch aren’t we looking at building some housing there? Would that not help downtown more than anything?” Stewart said. “For so many years we’ve been trying the same old thing over and over again and expecting to get a different result. We’ve been throwing everything at one area and the rest of the town is falling apart. It just ain’t fair. We want to keep the downtown and it’s a beautiful thing, but to me developing the Hutch property is the best thing that could ever happen to them. It’s the best thing that could ever happen.
“… It can’t be centered all around the downtown,” he added. “We sat a post office, to me, in one of the craziest places you could ever sit one. That’s just my opinion, but that’s not the most friendly place to get in and out. It was because we didn’t want to take the customers away from downtown. Well, it didn’t work. It didn’t work, guys. To me, we’re just trying to do the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result. I think we need to move on … and quit letting these buildings fall apart and sit there empty and worry about whether or not we’re going to take them off the tax roll. That’s that kind of thinking that’s got us where we’re sitting at right now.”
The final decision on acquisition is ultimately up to LUB. Council will vote Monday on whether to support the move.