City takes $20 million hit on St. Mary’s redevelopment

Sandra ClarkInside 640

Construction costs have increased almost $20 million for the new headquarters for the city fire and police departments on the former St. Mary’s hospital site.

Mayor Indya Kincannon called the overage “a sucker-punch” and said she and staff debated whether to walk away, delay the project or go forward. She recommended going forward and city council agreed, 8-1, with Amelia Parker dissenting.

“This is the least bad option,” said Kincannon. “We got a significantly higher bid than anticipated due to Covid. Fortunately, we have a sound financial footing to keep this project moving forward.”

David Brace, chief operating officer and deputy to the mayor, made the case for spending $70 million for a project that was supposed to cost $50 million.

He said the city could borrow the money at current low interest rates or could use a portion of the $44 million in federal funds coming over the next two years for covid-related expenses and loss of revenue.

Parker advocated delay, saying construction prices could drop. But council members Lynne Fugate, Lauren Rider and Gwen McKenzie disagreed. “There is no guarantee prices will go down,” said McKenzie.

And council member Charles Thomas argued that “good ancillary projects are coming (from the city’s investment) that probably would not have come (without it).”

Lincoln Memorial University will increase its investment on the site if accreditation is approved for dental and optometric colleges, Brace said. And LMU is considering a dental/vision clinic to serve low-income or uninsured individuals.

Fulton High School is counting on a partnership as well. And the Clayton Museum is on hold until the city can vacate the current safety building site. Clayton also is rethinking how the museum will be operated post-covid. Will there be hands-on exhibits?

Nobody was happy, but the mayor and 8 of 9 council members have stayed the course.

In other action April 20, the city has allowed sheep the same privileges as goats in clearing land of invasive plants. The whimsical resolution said sheep can perform on par with goats and generally make less noise.

Council deferred until May 8 a vote on second reading to rezone property at 4821 N. Broadway at the request of Erick Garcia Salas. The rezoning faced strong opposition from Charles Thomas, council member from District 5.

Thomas said residents “don’t want another oil change place on Broadway.”

Lauren Rider, who lives nearby and represents District 4, supported the rezoning. “My concern is creating areas of disinvestment, and that particular parcel does not abut residential (property).”

Discussion revealed that no one present knew whether a building had been razed on the site. Council member Lynne Fugate said that was reason enough to delay.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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