Turkey Creek, December 2004
The Ghosts of Turkey Creek Visiting with its past, present and future
Round about 1995, with the nation in the midst of perhaps the longest period of sustained economic growth in recent memory, a handful of developers calling themselves Turkey Creek Land Partners snapped up a $7 million, 400-plus acre swath of largely unsullied real estate between Lovell Road and Kingston Pike. They had a plan, to create an epic new shopping destination in the westernmost portion of Knox County, miles from traditional Bearden-area hotspots along Kingston Pike. More than $400 million later, their vision would come to fruition in the form of the Turkey Creek Development, the largest such commercial venture in Knox County history. But it didn't come easy. Beset with jurisdictional frictions, cries of "Sprawl!", and environmentalists' concerns for a 22-acre wetland area that fell squarely in the middle of a planned extension of Parkside Drive (the chief access road), progress was slow. Anchor stores like a Super Wal-Mart (February 2001) didnâ’t open until after the turn of the millenium. The bulk of the new tenants didnâ’t begin opening until 2003. "Turkey Creek had a number of difficulties," says Knox Area Chamber Partnership president Mike Edwards. "The city, the county, Farragut, the state and the feds all governed some parts of it. It finally overcame the hurdles, but it took eight years." With Christmas upon us, and in the tradition of a certain Dickens classic, we took a look at the ghostsâ"past, present and futureâ"of this burgeoning but still-controversial development, which in 2004 and beyond promises to be one of the hottest seasonal shopping destinations in the state.
The Island of Turkey Creek A rare wetland habitat feels the impact of development
by Paige M. Travis Before the name was synonymous and indistinguishable from a 410-acre commercial development, Turkey Creek referred to a stream that flowed parallel to Lovell Road in an overgrown Farragut pasture. Its nameâ"along with the area's wildlife and peculiar natural habitsâ"may have mostly been familiar to residents of nearby neighborhoods and those who spied the small green sign on Kingston Pike near Concord. But in 1995, the name of Turkey Creek entered the lexicon of local citizens as the most ambitious and expensive commercial development ever undertaken by Knox County. A development company known as Turkey Creek Land Partners (TCLP) had procured for $7 million a parcel of property west of Lovell Road, bound by Kingston Pike, I-40/75 and Campbell Station Road. Their plan was to develop restaurants, stores, hotels, a hospital and more. But what they needed was a 2.5-mile extension of Parkside Drive through the property to connect with Campbell Station Road. When approached with the plan, the City of Knoxville, which in the mid-'80s had annexed Parkside Drive and the stretch of land that would be its logical continuation, approved the allocation of $4.1 million to build the road, sewers, storm drains and other necessary infrastructure. The developers asked Knox County and the Town of Farragut to contribute an additional $1.45 million. The property's owners were "donating" the right of way, buffer zone and design work equal to $4.5 million. In return, property taxes generated by the developmentâ"estimated at the time to be more than $8 million a yearâ"would return to the local governments in time. Local governments make these kinds of investments all the time, but not usually on such a large scale. Not long after the Metropolitan Planning Commission and the city approved the plan (with City Council members Carlene Malone and Ivan Harmon voting against), a formidable roadblock came into view. The Parkside extension would need to transverse 22 acres of wetland, a sensitive ecosystem thatâ’s rare in East Tennessee and increasingly rare in the entire country. Vocal and active protests by local environmentalists started almost immediately, gelling into a group called the Turkey Creek Wetland Alliance. Representatives of the Foundation of Global Sustainability [FGS], including Dr. John Nolt, a philosophy professor at UT, championed for the sensitive nature of the wetland habitat and its residents, particularly a small fish called the flame chubb. â“The wetland itself wasnâ’t a huge, pristine wetland,â” says Mark Campen of the Izaak Walton League, the wetlandâ’s current manager. But, at 22 acres, it was large for East Tennessee. It also wasnâ’t a long-standing wetland, which pro-developing entities used as a defense for their plans, and environmentalists pointed out as a sign of the areaâ’s ever-changing status. Campen explains that the property was a functioning farm up until the 1970s. About eight to 10 years ago, beavers started damming the creek, which flooded and created the wetland, allowing plants and animals that didnâ’t previously find the area habitable to move in. Environmentalists argued that although only 3.2 of the 22 acres would be paved, the entire wetland would be damaged. Because wetlands are protected by county, state and national laws, the landâ’s developers were required to pass inspection by the stateâ’s Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers. Since law dictates that lost wetland must be recreated through mitigation, TCLP allotted 53 acres for additional wetland, a rerouted Turkey Creek and a buffer zone. Activists respond that mitigation isnâ’t enough, that 85 percent of mitigation projects fail. The developersâ’ environmental engineering consultant Mike Dennis counters that theyâ’re improving the wetland and the creek. Through 1996 and 1997, the land partners continue to negotiate financial assistance from Farragut and Knox County and to rebuff environmental protests. With the help of a Council that seemed desperate for the development to proceed as smoothly and quickly as possible, TCLP even won a zoning change that gives the Council and planning commission less control over how the developers carry out lighting and landscape design. Michelle Neal Conlon, spokeswoman for FGS, described the rezoning as â“one more example of the utter disregard by City Council for the Metropolitan Planning Commission's attempts at moderating the excesses of runaway strip development in the Knoxville area (and) a slap in the face to the MPC, the town of Farragut, neighbors and concerned citizens.â” In addition, the city easily obtained a change in the wetland permit to divert the creek via culvert into a dry creekbed. Environmentalistsâ"whose suggestions for a bridge to overpass the wetland had already been shot down as expensive and unnecessaryâ"said the plan was worse than the previous one. Now six years later, the wetland is 53-acre blip in the massive consumer mecca of Turkey Creek Shopping Center. Awareness of its existence splits shoppers and employees into camps of mixed feelings. Earthfare, the organic supermarket chain, hosts meetings of the wetlandâ’s advisory board and participates as a corporate sponsor of the Izaak Walton Leagueâ’s plans for a walking trail and educational facility. But there is an inherent irony in how plastic signs announcing Earthfareâ’s sales edge the shoulder of the wetland as you approach the store from the east. Kim Pilarski, a wetland biologist for TVA and a representative of Knox Land and Water Conservancy, acknowledges the landâ’s value on both counts. â“Because of its size and its importance in terms of biodiversity, that land was a unique piece of property,â” she says. â“But it was very valuable commercially and economically. Itâ’s hard to balance all that.â” Knox Land and Water Conservancy is one of several agencies, along with the Izaak Walton League, the Clean Water Network, and other local and state organizations, that monitor water quality issues in Tennessee. The Knoxville-based Tennessee chapter of the Izaak Walton League (IWL) manages the conservation easement, which is owned by Knox County. Although the name of Ijams Nature Center was continually dropped as a potential caretaker of the wetland (and the Ijams center was illegally deeded the easement by TCLP without the non-profitâ’s knowledge), the IWL agreed to manage the property in 2001. By law, a conservator must be chosen to take care of a wetland property, but TCLP never set aside or allowed for the collection of funds for that conservator to do so. Pilarksi says that in similar developments across the country, a small percentage of funds raised from the areaâ’s property sales pays for managing the environmentally sensitive property. In this case, the IWL applies for grants and finds other means to pay for its projects in Turkey Creek. â“We are responsible for making sure impacts to the wetlands do not occur or are minimized,â” says Campen, whose responsibility also stretches to the surrounding area. Within minutes of talking to Campen and his fellow IWL colleagues, it becomes clear that wetlands like the one at Turkey Creek are just one part of the areaâ’s watershed; creeks, streams, rivers and lakes are all affected by development. And thereâ’s a lot of development happening on either side of Parkside Drive. From a watershed perspective, the land west of Lovell Road toward Pellissippi Parkway is upland; pollutants that get into the water system there can end up in surrounding creeks and wetlands. What Campen and crew are most concerned about is sediment and silt runoff. When trees and grass are removed from the ground of cleared construction sites, rainwater washes dirt (and trash and whatever else) into the storm drains, which can get clogged. The resulting flooding can affect wildlife in a creek or wetlandâ"or create dangerous situations on roadways or parking lots. Monitoring and doing as much as they can to control that chain of events is IWLâ’s mission in Turkey Creek. Doug White and his volunteers pick up a lot of trashâ"as much as two big garbage bags three times a weekâ"that blows out of the parking lots and either ends up in the storm drain or is caught in the wetlandâ’s foliage. Their efforts are upkeep as well as preparation for the education center that the Knox County Parks & Recreation department plans for the wetland. A paved path curves behind Baptist Hospital for Women on the Turkey Creek site, and there are plans for development of a woodchip trail with signage to be developed in the spring. â“One of my main goals is to make people more aware of what are the impacts on water quality and how can you make a difference,â” says Campen, who is as enthusiastic as he is knowledgeable about wildlife and water quality issues. Just as the IWL reports suspicious and polluting behavior to Knox County, or up the chain of command to state officials, public citizens can do the same. Nelson Ross, who founded the IWLâ’s Tennessee chapter in 1977, says that the individual contractors at Turkey Creek sitesâ"as well as the utility companies involved in West Knoxville and Farragutâ"have been â“responsiveâ” to the erosion or drainage problems theyâ’ve seen. Ross echoes Pilarskiâ’s equanimity in regards to the parallel lives of nature and commercialism. â“Development is going to come to us,â” he says without remorse or consternation. As managers of the easement, the IWL also holds mitigation credits, which developers must buy if their work impacts certain bodies of water. The sale of these credits will generate money to sustain the wetland. â“Right now weâ’re in the catbird seat,â” Ross says. The health of the Turkey Creek wetland is currently difficult to measure. Campen says the flame chubb still lives in the creek, although a full assessment of the fish will probably wait until next year. Beavers continue to inhabit the area, and migrating songbirds have been spotted flyingâ"although not nestingâ"in the wetlandâ’s trees. The league has plenty of work on its plate; land-clearing and construction continues full steam ahead in Phase II of the commercial development, and the results of what change has already been wrought remain to play out. â“I donâ’t want to say the wetland is hanging in the balance,â” says Campen. â“The potential is there for the county to get developers to do their job properly. Whether to say itâ’s worse or better. I think itâ’s either one. I think there are impacts coming from areas that could be better.â We see a lot of problems, and we have reported potential problems. I think time will tell. The wetland is at a point where it could go either way.â” The wetland, estimates Pilarski, â“is still in relatively OK shape,â” although, she adds, itâ’s an island in the middle of a huge development. Its destiny is changed. â“Thereâ’s been an overall general degradation of the watershed,â” she says. â“Long term it will be difficult to keep the integrity of wetland the way it is.â”
Capital-Letter BIG Turkey Creek's regional economic impact is huge
from Staff Reports When you talk about commercial development in Turkey Creek, little words just won't do; Turkey Creek is all about BIG. It's a BIG development (410 acres), that required BIG investments ($7 million in publicly funded infrastructure improvements alone), brought in BIG stores (both a Super Wal-Mart and a Super Target are among its anchor tenants), and has subsequently had a BIG... no, make that a HUGE impact not only in and around Parkside Drive, but on shopping patterns and retail revenues across Knox and its neighboring counties. Just how big is BIG? "I've been told that Turkey Creek is the hottest retail area in the state right now, driven by demographics, disposable income, household income," says Mike Edwards, president of Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership. And right now, it's only getting bigger, with a new suburban megaplex movie theater slated to move in with the still-expanding menu of dozens of storesâ"specialty shops and general interest mainstays alike, Marble Slab Creamery and Lifeway Christian Stores nestled in the looming shadows of Goody's and Office Max and Wal-Mart... Just how sought-after is tenancy in Turkey Creek's burgeoning retail Mecca? Again, Edwards relates that, "Turkey Creek Land Partners are only giving ground leases (to tenants). Retailers hate that. They want to own the ground under their buildings. But they're leasing. That tells you something." But assessing the larger economic impact of a commercial development like Turkey Creek in hard dollars and cents is not an easy thing to do. For one thing, businessfolk are loathe to discuss sensitive details such as sales totals at specific outlets. For another, sales tax records broadly chronicle the activity on large, impersonal swaths of real estate, not individual shopping outlets or even entire commercial developments. And for yet another, the bottom line for a development like Turkey Creekâ"a readily accessible shopping destination for at least four adjoining counties (Anderson, Blount, Loudon and Roane), and located only a few miles west of other established retail hotspots along the Bearden-to-Farragut corridor in Knoxâ"must account for the retail impact it has on neighboring areas, good or ill. "It [Turkey Creek] has affected all of this region in that's it has become such a major shopping destination," says Parker Hardy, president of Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce. "It's had an impact on shopping patterns, and there is some retail trade being lost from Oak Ridge. But that doesn't mean it's dried up our market.â” "Our experience has been that the more retail you have, the more it generates," says Fred Forster of the Blount County Chamber, noting that Blount shoppers have quick access to Turkey Creek via the Pellissippi Parkway extension. "I think that will be born out in our sales tax; we've seen expansion of retail in Blount County, and an increasing variety of retail. I'm sure there's an upper limit somewhere, but we haven't found it yet." Knoxville Deputy Finance Director Jim York had occasion to make some rough estimates of Turkey Creek-area revenues in late 2002, just as retail development in the area was about to surge into high gear. His figures are only approximations, gathered from broad statistics collected before much of the development came online. But the numbers are telling, nonetheless. Based on sales tax figures, York says gross sales for the real estate in and around Turkey Creek were about $170 million for the fiscal year ending in 2002â"perhaps double, he guesses, what they had been the previous year. "There's been an awful lot of development since 2002," York adds. "I would expect now that overall sales revenues may be well over a quarter of a billion dollars. The growth curve has been very rapid, especially more recently. I would guess that some of their sales-per-square-foot is pretty good, at least comparable to other developments of that size." Meanwhile, city property tax revenues for the area leapt from $180,000 in fiscal 2001 to $716,000 in fiscal '02. This year's take? "Maybe $1 million," York says. "I wouldn't be at all surprised. Also worth noting, says Edwards, is the fact that local governments' front-end investments in infrastructure saw rapid returns. "The most important question was the extension of Parkside Drive," Edwards says. "The city and county paid for the extension of the road, and within the second year after Turkey Creek opened, the city and county had gotten their money back in new taxes, property and sales taxes." But what of Turkey Creek's influence on other shopping hubs in the area, particularly those along the sometimes hot-, sometimes cold-running commercial corridor of Kingston Pike? Naysayers predicted that Turkey Creek's wealth of shopping opportunities would lead to a poverty of sorts for West Knox staples such as West Town Mall, Target, and the Wal-Mart off Walbrook Drive. It's too early to tell whether any of those dire predictions will come true. But so far, observers are optimistic that they won't. "When they opened, Turkey Creek was one of five locations in the country where a Super Target and a Super Wal-Mart went in right together," Edwards says. "The opposition in terms of predicted negative economic impact said that Target's Downtown West store would close. It expanded. They said the Wal-Mart at Walker Springs would close.... Well, go down there and see how it's doing." Area business leaders like Forster and Hardy also say they aren't worried about Turkey Creek adversely affecting retail business in their home counties. Granted, unflagging optimism is the default setting of most chamber of commerce presidents; but they sound like they mean it. "We don't have a lot of specific data; most of my feelings about Turkey Creek come from my own observation and comments from the community," Forster says. "And those feelings are all positive." In Oak Ridge, where developers and city officials are struggling to rehabilitate the chronically (and spectacularly) underperforming Oak Ridge Mall, Hardy says some of Turkey Creek's tenants have expressed interest in opening new Anderson County locations in addition to those existing outlets. "We're trying to rework a dysfunctional shopping mall into a town center, a traditional downtown with free-standing anchor stores," Hardy says. "A lot of people think Turkey Creek will detract from that effort. Our answer is, 'No, it's not.' There are businesses in Turkey Creek who've expressed interest in also locating at our town center. "In some people's minds, Turkey Creek has affected our downtown area. But our problems (with the mall) existed well before they came along. We admire what they've accomplished there; our hats are off to the folks at Turkey Creek." But the most perplexing aspect of Turkey Creek is the question of its relationship with, and impact on, the town of Farragut, which both overlaps and borders the development. Though wholly dependent on local sales tax recapture (the town has no municipal property tax), Farragut has chosen to adhere to its founding vision in remaining a carefully planned, chiefly residential community. "The enigma to me has always been Farragut's position," Edwards says. "In and around Turkey Creek, (the town) has office zoning, when it is 100 percent reliant on sales taxes. This is at a time when the retail corridor in Farragut is (struggling). It's an economic model that has to change in the next 30 years." But while Farragut Mayor Eddie Ford acknowledges that the town's sales tax revenues dropped nine percent from fiscal 2002 to fiscal 2003, he points to a spate of residential and smaller business developments in Farragut as evidence that the community is not only viable, but upwardly mobile. "Our focus has to remain on protecting the integrity of our residential areas," Ford says, noting that the town negotiated 100-foot buffer zones with some of the larger stores that now occupy Turkey Creek. Even so, he says the town may yet benefit from new commercial development within its limits on the north side of Parkside Drive. "Things are moving more quickly than we can keep up with," Ford assures. Then he hazards a prediction. "I'll bet there comes a time, not too long from now, when 10 percent of the sales tax in all Knox County comes out of what's going on off Parkside Drive." Ten percent of the entire county; now that's BIG.
An Arresting Development The future of Turkey Creek holds enormous possibility
by Clint Casey The Turkey Creek development is slowly evolving into an interconnected behemoth with endless possibility. When the project reaches its projected completion in 2009, its 300 acres will include 1.5 million square feet of retail space, a million feet of office space, and a half-million feet of restaurants and entertainmentâ"more than 3 million square feet of land that was relatively dormant less than five years ago. John Turley, general manager of Turkey Creek Land Partners, calls whatâ’s happening there â“synergy.â” The user-friendly Colonial Pinnacle project, known as a lifestyle center, will be ornamentally landscaped and trimmed with benches, an upscale mall sans roof with the usual suspects: high fashion, housewares, books and music. The buzzwords for a lifestyle center are ambiance, efficiency and convenience. â“It addresses the needs of customers adjacent to Turkey Creek. Weâ’re trying to create an atmosphere for them that is special and different than anything else in Knoxville,â” says Paul Glascock of Colonial Properties Trust in Birmingham, Ala. â“Convenience is a major consideration for shoppers,â” he adds, citing the parking situation as a key. With lifestyle centers quickly becoming the rule instead of an exception, Knoxville will cut its teeth with its first in April 2006. Currently, 20 lifestyle centers are built per year on the average, compared to three traditional malls. Confident in the coming extinction of traditional malls, Turley says, â“The ones that are going to be left will be either â“A,â” â“Bâ” or â“Câ” malls. An â“Aâ” mall would be like West Town that will continue to be maintained and do well. A â“Bâ” mall would become a neighborhood mall, like Foothills in Maryvilleâ"there are more local tenants. Knoxville Center will eventually be a neighborhood mall. And the third malls will be the ones they scrape or turn into churches; theyâ’re not going to exist.â” The aesthetic goal of the lifestyle center is to create a sense of place. Its customers can expect â“anything from brick paving in the sidewalk to give pedestrians a comfort level walking around the interior of the center, to special lighting, to fountains,â” Glascock says. The Pinnacle project is comprised of two phases that will open simultaneously to the west of SuperTarget on the north and south sides of Parkside Drive. And, Farragut Land Partners recently purchased an adjacent tract of land for $4.8 million to secure property for another phase of Colonial development. â“There is very strong interest in a phase-three retail environment, which would come after we open the initial center. We intend to explore that opportunity at the appropriate time,â” Glascock says. â“Right now, we have our hands full getting the first phase of the center open.â” The area available for lease in the $80-million center is 44,000 square feet for restaurants and 179,000 square feet for shops. However, the Pinnacle is unique from other lifestyle centers with its anchor: an $18-million Regal megaplex. Opening in May 2005, the 18-screen theater encompasses 82,580 sq. ft. of the available 305,000 total, and it has current Turkey Creek merchants salivating at the possibilities. â“The big talk among merchants is the Pinnacle, and the theater will validate it,â” says Bed Store owner Roger Cunningham. In addition, a 120,000-sq. ft. Proffittâ’s department store is slated for April 2006, serving as the firstâ"and onlyâ"department store for the development. Itâ’s a joint venture between Colonial and TCLP. Possible features include a bakery, cooking demonstration kitchen and a wellness center; final plans are to be announced early next year. According to Proffittâ’s, the Alcoa-based company will continue to maintain its current Knoxville locations and is preparing for renovations to its Oak Ridge store. Currently, the Pinnacle is exploring options for upscale tenants to complement its anchors. Turley offers a hint of whatâ’s to come in the flavor of desired tenants. â“Youâ’re going to see a bookstore like a Borders, and weâ’re trying to bring new restaurant concepts into town. Bonefish Grill on Bearden Hill is looking. There are two or three upscale steakhouses like Ruthâ’s Chris or Houstonâ’sâ. California Pizza Kitchenâ"those are the kind of people that weâ’re talking to. â“The natural progression is once you have your anchor tenant, you go pick the guy that will fit the best,â” he says. Separate, but not necessarily apart, from the Pinnacle lifestyle center, Texas Roadhouse and Mimiâ’s Restaurant and hotels Homewood Suites (owned by Hilton) and Spring Hill Suites (owned by Marriott) have committed to the development and are under construction. Ron Watkins, president of Worsham-Watkins International, is set to build two office buildings totaling 150,000 square feet adjacent to the Pinnacle. In addition, a residential subdivision is planned behind the Regal cinema. The Cove at Turkey Creek will have 74 lots available for construction on 34 acres. On the west end of Parkside Drive at Campbell Station Road, there are hopes for a grocery eventually, with TCLP eyeing Publix. Colonial and TCLP are selective in greenlighting concepts, cautious not to replicate an existing business. Turley speaks passionately about the development, unwilling to compromise or settle for substandard ideas. â“We want the best of the best of the best of local retailers out there, not a bunch of franchises or strangers from out of town,â” he says. â“But, at the same time, we want a level of retail and fashion that hasnâ’t been here before. Here we have the opportunity to do it. There wonâ’t be another Turkey Creek.â”
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