Source: The Oak Ridger | Darrell Richardson | January 3, 2017

(Credit: Lynn Freeny)

“It’s really easy to have something not happen,” Ernest Moniz, a not infrequent visitor to The Secret City, stated Friday morning. “But everything was aligned.”

The U.S. Secretary of Energy since May 2013 was speaking to a moderately sized group of reporters gathered in the Pollard Technology Conference Center on the next-to-the-last day of the year following a well-attended ceremony that formalized the transfer of DOE’s American Museum of Science and Energy building and its surrounding 17-acre site to the city of Oak Ridge.

According to a resolution approved unanimously by City Council on Dec. 13, acceptance of a quit claim deed from the U.S. Department of Energy for the acquisition of the AMSE land is the first in a series of conditional steps linked to the support and success of a $90 million-plus economic development initiative primarily concentrated on the former Oak Ridge Mall property located in the center of town.

The ambitious “Main Street Oak Ridge” mixed-use retail development project is being undertaken by Greenville, S.C.-based RealtyLink and its affiliate company TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, which has expressed a desire to develop both the all-but-defunct Mall property and the current AMSE land into what City Manager Mark Watson has referred to as the future retail corridor for Oak Ridge.

Highlights of the aforementioned resolution approved 7-0 by City Council members earlier this month, include:

– Entering into an Occupancy Agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to allow DOE to remain on the AMSE property to continue current activities for up to 365 days from the initial transfer;

– Entering into a “no-cost sublease” with TN Oak Ridge Illinois Inc. for an approximate 18,000-square foot “premises” located at Main Street Oak Ridge for a period of 15 years from the date of occupancy;

– Entering into a sublease with DOE for the “premises” under the same term and conditions “thereby allowing DOE to continue (its) public education and outreach mission activities”;

– Entering into an Agreement for Transfer of Real Property with TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC to set for the plan for transfer of the (AMSE) property in two phases – with the transfer of the southern portion anticipated to be late 2016 to early 2017 and transfer of the northern portion occurring once DOE takes occupancy of the aforementioned Main Street Oak Ridge premises; and

– Transferring the (AMSE) property in two phases to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC by quit claim deed as set forth in the Agreement of Transfer of Real Property.

The bottom line of all of this, the city manager has stated, is to create “developable tracts for economic purposes.” As a “game changer” for the city, Watson has said the AMSE property transfer “addresses a long-standing matter and puts our eye on the future while recognizing our past.”

As reported by The Oak Ridger’s Ben Pounds on Dec. 15, if negotiations continue to succeed the city will agree to give RealtyLink LLC right of first option to purchase the 17.2 acres formerly owned by DOE at a price of $200,000 per acre or the value of the consideration divided by 17.2 – whichever is greater.

The resolution green-lit by City Council on Dec. 13 further indicates that RealtyLink would agree to develop the property in a manner that would generate at least $140,000 per year in new property taxes by Tax Year 2021 and at least an additional $150,000 by Tax Year 2024.

Friday’s Event

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been here (to Oak Ridge),” Energy Secretary Moniz admitted to the scores of city, county, state and federal representatives gathered for Friday morning’s formal “celebration” and land conveyance signing event.

But I’ve been here quite a few.”

After acknowledging the attendance of half a dozen or more Oak Ridge-related DOE dignitaries – such as Thom Mason, Gerald Boyd, Jim Campbell, etc. – as well as his “good friend” Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, who was singled out in particular as “an effective advocate and a great person to work with in so many ways” (though the Energy Secretary also offered kind considerations to U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander), Moniz underscored the Department of Energy’s ongoing role in continuous, multi-state regional development even as the current Obama administration’s days are numbered before President-elect Donald Trump takes office and appoints new cabinet members.

“My first trip as Energy Secretary was here and one of my last trips is here … and many trips in between,” Moniz stated to a supportive Oak Ridge crowd on Friday. “Today, a big part of this event is an enhanced celebration of the history and future of The Secret City.”

When it was his turn to speak, Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch praised Moniz as “truly one of the ‘wise men’ in Washington … He is an American patriot, and he has always been one of Oak Ridge’s strongest advocates.”

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