Sullivan officials OK tax incentive for Pinnacle development

J. H. Osborne • Sep 8, 2012 at 2:34 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Commission agreed Friday to tax increment financing (TIF) for The Pinnacle, a mixed-use development at Interstate 81 and Highway 11-W in Bristol which will be anchored by a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World location.

It's hard to put a dollar figure on what the County Commission committed to, based on limited discussion by commissioners prior to the vote.

Friday's called meeting of the commission marked the first public discussion of the issue by commissioners.

Bristol City Manager Jeff Broughton did walk commissioners through a power point presentation -- doing so only after Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey suggested having him do so as commissioners appeared about to vote without seeing or hearing it.

According to Broughton, Johnson Commercial Development and Oldcare McDonald LLC, developers of The Pinnacle, plan to build a "major destination retail shopping center" with retail, restaurants, offices and hotels eventually totaling over 1.2 million square feet -- with a capital investment of over $330 million and projected annual retail sales of over $340 million.

Broughton said with TIF and other incentives, the developers will be footing the bill for 86 percent of the development's costs, the city of Bristol, Tenn., will be providing 11 percent, and Sullivan County's participation will provide 3 percent.

The TIF approved by the County Commission for the project will be written as "up to" 20 years, but will likely be paid off in less than 15 years, Broughton said.

While the use of TIF means growth in property taxes due to improvement on the parcels involved will be dedicated to paying off debt for development of the project, The Pinnacle will boost local coffers through increased sales tax revenues, as well as creating jobs and other economic benefits, Broughton and others said.

And TIF is only one of the financial tools being used to get The Pinnacle project going. The project will rely heavily on the site's status as a border region retail district. And the city of Bristol, Tenn., has agreed to TIF for the city property taxes on involved parcels, and plans to issue up to $25 million in bonds to help with development costs.

TIF, Broughton said, will provide roughly 6 percent of the project's cost, while 94 percent will come from other sources.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called the development -- and the state legislation credited with helping make it happen -- "one of the biggest things that's happened to the Tri-Cities in a long time."

Ramsey and Godsey each said they expect that state legislation to ultimately bring a similar development to Kingsport, and Godsey said he believes the county will embrace that just as quickly when it happens.

Ramsey said the development will bring "thousands and thousands" of jobs once it's built out.

State Rep. Jon Lundberg, who carried the legislation that allowed creation of "border region retail districts," in which the state has agreed to allow a portion of sales tax revenues to be used to help cover development costs for eligible projects, said the idea, frankly, came from the city of Kingsport.

Lundberg, and later Broughton, credited Kingsport Community Relations and Government Liaison Tim Whaley with originating the concept.

Lundberg said city of Bristol officials were unaware of the concept until it became state law and Lundberg contacted them.

Lundberg said the border district legislation is a "game changer" that will be remembered in the future as something that brought major change to the county's economic environment.

At one point County Commissioner Ed Marsh asked if the issue could simply be on "first reading" Friday and a vote not taken until the commission's regular meeting Sept. 17.

"As you well know, we do have competition," Godsey said. "And as you well know, that competition is in another state. And as you well know, the first one to the table usually gets the bread."

Broughton said The Pinnacle's long-range build-out of over 1.2 million square feet makes it the biggest project in the country right now.

The construction phase will provide 2,600 jobs and an $84 million payroll, Broughton said -- and the projected $340 million per year in retail sales ultimately will provide $2 million per year to Sullivan County's school system, another $1.2 million per year to Kingsport City Schools, and another $700,000 to Bristol, Tenn., City Schools.

The project will have "a huge positive impact on everything," Broughton said.

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