MOUNT CARMEL - Mount Carmel officials have enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. David Davis to convince the Army to turn loose of the property across Highway 11-W for commercial development.
Two years ago, that Highway 11-W frontage property within the Holston Army Ammunition Plant was slated for a major commercial development under the direction of HAAP tenant BAE Systems. That plan was killed, however, when the general in charge of the plant at the time reportedly decided a retail shop and restaurant development would present a security risk to the explosive manufacturing operation.
Leaders in Mount Carmel haven't given up on the idea of a massive development in their town. But Mount Carmel Alderman Rick Gabriel warned local residents during a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting last week, "Don't get your hopes up real high."
"For quite some time under the direction of the mayor and the rest of the board, we've been talking in some detail with Congressman David Davis on this," Gabriel said. "In the final letter we sent him to send to the secretary of the Army, we said the town of Mount Carmel, Tennessee, is requesting the land parallel to the Main Street/Highway 11-W corridor two miles in length and 1,000 feet in depth be released to the town of Mount Carmel for development. We have released BAE from any liability, and they're not tied into that."
Davis told the Times-News Monday he has sent a letter to the secretary of the Army making that request and is now waiting to hear back from the Army. Davis said he supports the idea of developing HAAP's 11-W frontage in Mount Carmel and noted that the general who killed the original development plans has since been replaced.
"I think it's something that the Army should consider," Davis said. "There's a new general now who replaced the one that said no, and that's why I wanted to go directly to the secretary of the Army and find out what the Army would be willing to do. They already moved the security fence back, so if that was an issue, in my mind they already took that action."
Davis noted, however, that he serves on the Homeland Security Committee and wouldn't be in favor of any plan that creates an unsafe situation for the HAAP munitions plant.
"If it is safe, I want to do everything I can to help create jobs and economic development for the region," Davis said. "If those two things can work together, I hope that's what the secretary reports back to me when he responds."
The property is already within the Mount Carmel corporate boundaries, although the town doesn't collect property tax due to the land being within a federal reserve.
When the project was killed by the Army in January 2006, BAE Systems already had conceptual drawings and designs for a development with 1.2 million square feet of retail space mostly in Mount Carmel to be opened by 2010.
"The Shops At Allandale" was to encompass approximately 160 acres of HAAP highway frontage from Kingsport near the National Guard armory, west into Mount Carmel, and ending approximately at the Englewood Avenue intersection of 11-W.
The project had already attracted several businesses interested in locating at the site.
Tony Hewitt, BAE Systems director of commercial development and community relations, said Monday reviving the idea of opening that territory up for development is news to him.
"It is the Army's land, and we are their operating contractor, and we will respect their wishes and do whatever it is that they desire of us," Hewitt said. "We continue to look at other commercial development opportunities inside the plant and on that acreage. There's not a plan in the bottom drawer that we could pull out tomorrow (for development of the 11-W frontage). We would in effect start again if they (the Army) went down that particular path with that piece of land."
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