The city of Oak Ridge has received two proposals for developing vacant lots along Wilson Street, near the Main Street Oak Ridge development with multi-story buildings.
City Community Development Director Wayne Blasius made the announcement at a recent City Council work session and at a Planning Commission meeting the following week.
He said the proposals were consistent with the vision the city has been promoting for the area as a "downtown" type development. In an interview with The Oak Ridger, he said both involved multi-story buildings with commercial developments downstairs and residential developments upstairs. He said the buildings probably will have elevators, a detail that has caused some criticism of the nearby Main Street Lofts apartments which lack them. However, he said he did not have other specifics such as whether these Wilson Street developments would be apartments or condominiums or the particular type of stores or restaurants on their first floors.
He also said the two proposals could be "complementary to each other rather than competing." He said the Oak Ridge Land Bank staff is negotiating with the two companies so that both of their plans could work.
One company is Cappiello Real Estate, an Oak Ridge commercial real estate developer. The other is Wright Makers of Knoxville. Blasius said that company was involved in developing The Overlook, a condominium development in downtown Knoxville.
The estimated 6.5 acres the city and these companies are looking to develop is across from the Mariott by Hilton hotel and owned by the Oak Ridge Land Bank. It's at the eastern end of the Wilson Street area, near the Japanese restaurant Kume. Blasius did not give the size or number of buildings involved, but said they will take up the majority of the land.
Charlie Jernigan, chairman of the Oak Ridge Land Bank, announced earlier that his group mailed out requests for proposals in August for private developers to develop the land. He's explained the property isn't just the land directly along Wilson Street, but also lots back toward the CVS parking lot, along Rutgers between Kume and Countryside Tire & Auto Service, and a private road between Wendy's and Krystal fast-food restaurants.
He addressed a crowd about the vacant land on Aug. 6 to promote the project.
"Let's all join together and toast our new downtown Oak Ridge," Jernigan told the crowd. "Over time, this whole district could be changed."
In his speech, he talked about downtown-type developments, such as rooftop bars, offices, condominiums and apartments. A city news release similarly described the city's interest in "restaurants, local shops, offices, and beautiful green space" for the area.
What's in a name?
With few details revealed about the potential new businesses at the Nov. 16 work session, attention instead turned to changing Wilson Street's name. City Council member Ellen Smith said the current name sounded too much like it was named for Neil Wilson, a developer who owns some of the land on the opposite side of Wilson street from the Land Bank's land.
The name predates Neil Wilson.
"It was a private street called Wilson Street for decades," Blasius told The Oak Ridger.
Mayor Warren Gooch said in response that he did not like people "taking shots" at Wilson or his company RealtyLink, which also owns the nearby Main Street Oak Ridge development and added several new stores to the former Oak Ridge Mall property.
RealtyLink has faced criticism for various actions pertaining to development in the area. Smith did not criticize Wilson at the meeting. However, Gooch took the opportunity to thank Neil Wilson and RealtyLink for their Oak Ridge developments.
"Neil Wilson and RealtyLink helped save this city," he told Council, calling the area "a black hole" before that development.
Mayor Pro Tem Rick Chinn, also a commercial real estate developer, credited RealtyLink's development with raising property values across the city, an increase he called "amazing."
Ben Pounds is a staff reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317, email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.
This article originally appeared on Oakridger: City gets proposals for Wilson Street