2nd Party vie for Centre 75 Tract
EDA ok's deal making & Back door story
By: Pat Hunter
Feb. 22, 2009
If you've been reading the local newspaper, you may have seen all the "Retail Liquor License Notices, which are sprouting up like a rash of wild onions in springtime. All in anticipation of two certificate of compliance to be awarded by Loudon City Council on March 16.
A Special Called Meeting was held on Feb. 2 by the Loudon County Economic Development Agency (LCEDA or EDA). The seats for the public were mostly empty, no press just some Board members, two businessmen and one member of the public.
The Tennessee Attorney General has opined that LCEDA fall under the Open Meetings and Open Records law. Taxpayers pay for travel and Christmas luncheon's for the Board but its different when it comes to paying for public notices in the newspaper. Instead, the Special Called meeting appeared in the Community Calendar of the Sunday-Monday Feb. 1-2 News Herald edition. Some are asking, if the meeting announcement gave adequate public notice for the public to attend or for the LCEDA to conduct business? Did the content of the notice adequately inform the public of the purpose of the meeting? Did the the meeting satisfy all criteria of the Open Meetings Law for a Special Called meeting if this were to be challenged in a court of law by some unhappy liquor license applicant?
The Board's discussion prompted a vote to authorize that two LCEDA employees negotiate behind closed doors with other applicants seeking property for liquor stores.
LCEDA Chairman- Mayor Doyle Arp called the meeting to order and then Director Pat Phillips explained that another Letter of Intent was received from businessman John Tuck and Ed Bell requesting the purchase of the same tract located in Centre 75 Business Park. This is also the same piece of property that Waffle House was interested in buying months ago before that deal fell through for some unknown reason. Previously, the LCEDA Board met on Jan. 22 for another Special Called meeting when Loudon businessman Johnny James submitted the 1st Letter of Intent for the same tract for a liquor store. Phillips commented that both parties would be eligible for the same piece of property.
The LCEDA did not have an option to buy and rather than tie up the property for one individual, Phillips explained, why not make them both eligible to buy the same tract for a liquor store. He mentioned that Loudon City Council would make the final determination and award two certificate of compliance for liquor stores. Phillips gave the purchase price of $204,750 for .63 acre or $325,000 per acre.
The LCEDA makes recommendations to local government for their consideration and action but recommendations from this Board carry great weight when local officials deliberate on policies, recommendations on land proposals, tax incentive deals and land sales.
Board Director Jeffry Feike, Chamber of Commerce Chairman and Ft. Loudon Medical Center hospital administrator, quickly made a motion to satisfy Phillipís recommendation. Phillipís offered a clarification, if someone else was interested for the same property, they too would be eligible for the tract.
Loudon City manager Lynn Mills commented that Loudon City had run into this situation before and gave an explanation.
Phillips read the Letter of Intent from John Tuck and Ed Bell. EDA Board member/Lenoir City Councilman Eddie Simpson wanted to make sure that the wording was the same for Tuck and Bell as it was for Johnny James.
Phillips mentioned that an option to buy would tie up the property and he didnít think that was a good idea or loosing a sale just in case James wasnít awarded a license.
LCEDA Chairman/Mayor Arp inquired about the number of applications and Mills replied that 19 application packages had been picked up. Does that mean that weíre going to meet 17 more times? Arp asked if Board wanted to meet again if other applicants were interested in buying tracts. Did the Board want to give Pat Phillips and Kathy Knight, the authority to put together the best package and presentation on that particular site? Jeffery Feike withdrew his motion and asked that Eddie Simpson make a motion. Simpson motionís was that Phillips and Knight scrutinize and allow different people to, Simpson was interrupted and Phillips finished Simpson's sentence, for making the property available for the liquor store with the approval of City Council for the license for anybody. If they meet the criteria on this property or any property as well, added Simpson. Feike seconded the motion. Phillips wanted to know if he was talking about Centre 75; any property replied Simpson. What about if they want a different parcel in Centre 75? Knight mentioned that would have to come back to the LCEDA Board for approval. The motion passed unanimously.
Rarely does the public have an opportunity to speak at Board meetings even though the LCEDA receives most of its budget from taxpayer coffers from Loudon County, Lenoir and Loudon. Chairman-Mayor Arp asked Ed Bell and John Tuck if they wished to speak. Ed Bell spoke about the petition drive to get the liquor question on the ballot. He gave stats on sales tax going to liquor stores in surrounding counties. Bell shared his thoughts about future plans and he spoke about the cost of the petition drive to get the liquor question on the ballot.
Ed Bell ended with a petition drive story about 3 or 4 old ladies that were members of one of the biggest churches in this county that asked him, would you let us come in the back door. As they laughed, LCEDA Director/Lenoir City Administrator Dale Hurst asked, were they Baptist? Bell thanked the Board and the meeting adjourned.