Developer Stewart Taylor speaks at the Heritage Point groundbreaking Friday. David Grace photo.
KINGSPORT — Developer Stewart Taylor went ahead Friday with a ceremonial groundbreaking on his Heritage Point Towne Center project despite not having an anchor retail tenant signed on the dotted line.
“We do have some letters of intent and we are in negotiations with some large tenants,” Taylor said at the groundbreaking. “I feel if we get out here and take 100 acres, we can make it look graded. We’re at the crossing of two interstates (81 and 26) and within a radius of 200,000 people. If we get the site ready for something to happen, we’ll be ready.”
The project got the blessing of a host of speakers at the groundbreaking, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who got a helicopter ride to get an aerial view of the site.
Taylor said he’s spending $8 million on phase one grading to prepare the property for retailers.
His plans for the property include one million square feet of retail, entertainment and dining facilities at full build out.
A news release on the project also said Taylor wants a major wholesale club, sporting goods retailer, multi-screen cineplex, department stores and a hotel on the property.
Taylor said he has secured Chattanooga-based real estate developer Fletcher Bright Co. to sign up tenants.
On the opposite side of Taylor’s development across Interstate 81, the city of Kingsport still holds hope of developing the so-called Riggs property. The city holds an option on one tract of that site, said City Manager John Campbell.
Campbell noted the city upgraded water and sewer infrastructure in the Heritage Point area years ago.
Both Kingsport and Bristol have created border districts where they hope to grow retailing as part of legislation passed by the Tennessee General Assembly.
The law, designed to help border communities compete with neighboring states that have a lower sales tax rate than Tennessee, allows a community to capture the sales tax generated from developments if the total project includes a minimum $20 million investment, creates $2 million a year in new state sales tax revenue, and attracts 1 million visitors a year.
For its special taxation district, Kingsport designated 950 acres of land at the intersection of Interstates 81 and 26, including the Heritage Point project.
“Rarely do we pass legislation dedicated to a site, and allow a portion of sales tax created on the site to help pay for the development,” Ramsey said at the groundbreaking. “I think we kind of snuck it through. I think the governor (Republican Bill Haslam) realized it, and the commissioner of revenue (Richard Roberts) realized exactly what this could do, especially for an area like this, and thought this would explode all across the state. We have actually sunset that bill now.”
Bass Pro Shops had considered locating in the Heritage Point area, but Kingsport officials couldn’t come up with $25 million the retailer wanted up front.
The project instead went to developer Steve Johnson on his 400-acre Interstate 81 tract in Bristol, Tenn. Bass Pro Shops will anchor Johnson’s 1.3 million-square-foot development, which is expected to draw various retailers, restaurants, lodging and entertainment facilities to Bristol. As the first tenant, Bass Pro Shops is expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014.