UNICOI — A hotel and sit-down restaurant are in the sights of a developer representative who has received preliminary approval from the Unicoi Planning Commission for a 14-lot commercial development near Exit 32 of Interstate 26."
Jim Dunbar, who is working on the 16.58-acre tracts, said he does not have either of these entities lined up. He said he cannot sell any of the lots until a road has been installed and they have been platted. He estimated it would be the middle of 2009 before the road is constructed and late 2009 for construction of a business."
But Dunbar said the plan and hope is to have a hotel and restaurant as part of the package. He said he has had talks with both types of businesses that they would come if the other would. He cautioned that the demographics in that area support a smaller size hotel — about 60 rooms — and restaurant. Doris Hensley, executive director of the Unicoi County Economic Development Board, said this restaurant would utilize liquor by the drink, which the town’s voters approved in 2006. Unicoi does not have any of these restaurants now."
“I see it as kind of a testing ground,” she said. “That would be the first in the county, and I think that there will be a lot of eyes upon that restaurant to see how it is doing. It could possibly open up to more sit-down restaurants coming to the area.”"
Hensley believes the hotel is needed and probably will generate more revenue than the restaurant will. But she envisions more restaurants than hotels locating long term in that area."
Pat Hardy, a consultant for the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, estimated the entire proposed development, if it had other businesses such as a convenience store and fast-food restaurant, would generate $10,000-$20,000 a year in sales-tax revenue for the town compared to $1,675 a year in expenses for street lighting and street maintenance. Unicoi does not have a property tax."
“All in all, the potential development appears to be a real positive benefit to the town from a cost/benefit perspective,” Hardy wrote in a letter to Town Recorder Larry Rea."
To help facilitate the project, which could have other partners, the waterline that goes to the property needs to be upgraded to 10 inches. The cost is about $148,000 and the Unicoi County Economic Development Board will consider this week whether it wants to pay for one-third of the cost."
The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen already has agreed to contribute at least one-third of the cost or, if necessary, co-sign a loan, Mayor Johnny Lynch said. That was not factored into Hardy’s analysis."
“I think it’s well worth the effort to accomodate the infrastructural needs for this property because this is an ideal location on an interstate exit and it has tremendous potential,” Lynch said. “All we need is a 10-inch waterline, and it’ll be presentable. Even if this property development didn’t come through this time, we would be ready for the next interested developer that would come along.” The other contributor in this plan is the Unicoi Water Utility District."
“There’s no reason why he (Dunbar) couldn’t pay (for the line) if he chose to, but he’s thinking — and I can understand his thinking — that he’s going to be putting a business in there that’s going to help Unicoi, the water company and Unicoi County,” Hensley said."
“So they’re going to get a good return on it. And once they extend that waterline, it’s going to open up that whole intersection there for other development."
“Once the city, the county or the utility gets the infrastructure there, I think we’re going to see a lot of development taking place at Exit 32.”"
Stressing the importance of this waterline, Hensley said it will be necessary to eventually serve the Tanasi cultural heritage center on the other side of the interstate."
Lynch said the waterline extension under discussion now would not include the Tanasi property but said it would bring it closer."
The EDB’s Executive Committee will consider this morning making a recommendation on the waterline to the full board, which meets Tuesday"