The VA District is now owned by Marion County with the City of Knoxville acting as agent for day-to-day work. The below timeline shows the anticipated progress for the next year.
The first focus for development will be on the south side and be residential in nature. The vision is to contract demolition in spring of 2020 with potential development in that area beginning in late 2020.
Your questions answered.
What will be the primary use of the campus?
Knoxville needs developable land to accommodate future urban growth. With new developable land available, increased housing construction in Knoxville becomes a distinct possibility.
While it can be expected that the principal future use of the VA Lands will be for residential development, some interest in retail commercial development can be expected to occur over time, especially as the residential areas develop.
Can the existing buildings be preserved, salvaged, or repurposed for other uses
Looks can be deceiving. From a distance, a passerby could easily be deceived regarding the actual condition of the VA campus. The arboreal nature of the lawns and majestic brick building conceal an unfortunate truth.
All buildings on the campus have been vacant for at least two years. Several closed in 2009 and others have been vacant more than 20 years. Most of the buildings have sat empty, neglected and without maintenance and heat/cooling. This situation has resulted in extensive mold growth, leaking roofs and windows, buckled floors, falling ceilings, peeling lead-based paint, and structural integrity issues that now plague the buildings. Adding to these conditions are a wide range of environmental issues.
Another major challenge at the site is the fact that is was designed to be self-contained, meaning it has its own water tower, electric service, heating plants, cooling, sewerage lagoon, etc., and no connection to modern City utilities. This self-supporting infrastructure is now obsolete, nonfunctional, or in some instances removed entirely from the buildings. Elements of the remaining infrastructure are also contributing to some of the environmental issues at the site. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has deemed these systems unusable, which subsequently rendered the buildings unusable as well. Collectively, these prevailing blighted conditions make it impractical and impossible to reclaim most of the area by conservation or rehabilitation
Preliminary cost estimates for demolition of all buildings, removal of asbestos contained in them, and removal or the existing infrastructure runs anywhere between $8-15 million. These costs significantly exceed estimates of the current market values of land.
Before demolition, buildings will be inspected for usefulness.
What are the phases of development?
Looking at the long-term goals, it is anticipated that there will be three primary phases of development of the VA District. A Land Use Strategy Prepared for the City of Knoxville by 571 Polson Developments LLC January 2019 gives more detail to development and can be found here.
Phase 1 is the area available for immediate development. It is located on either side of Pleasant Street, and east of Freedom Drive. Phase I contains the portions of the VA Lands that do not require construction of a lift station prior to their development.
Phase 2 is the second development area. It is located on either side of Pleasant Street, between Independence and Freedom Drives, and runs north to McGregor Road.
Phase 3 should be considered as an area for long term development. It is located west of Independence Drive. Planning for interim use of the Phase 3 lands is recommended given the expected development time frame.
It is important to remember that these phases will take several years each and the land will not refill with building immediately. This project will position Knoxville to be ready for growth for the next several years. It is also important to note that since local governments will be working with private developers, there is significant flexibility built into these phases and their timeframe depends on developer interest.
Who will ultimately develop the property?
The hope of Marion County and the City of Knoxville is to bring in private developers to lead the development process. Local government entities stepped into this project out of necessity to gain local control of that land and to get it ready for development. Public investment is being made to allow for private development, and not for local governments to fill that role.
I am interested in purchasing a building or a section of land to develop, what do I do?
The purchase of property is not permitted at this time but will be in the future. The public will be informed when this process begins.
What roles do the City of Knoxville and Marion County play in regard to the land?
Marion County is responsible for taking the property back to development ready, primarily by removing structures and obsolete infrastructure. The City of Knoxville is responsible for putting good infrastructure back and leading day-to-day work towards development.