The longtime utility leader, who also serves as chairman of the Cleveland/Bradley Economic Development Council, said Tuesday his plan — if approved by the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities — would avoid a costly duplication of services that are already available at the site known to local leaders and planners as the Spring Branch Industrial Park.
“This could be a ‘win-win’ for everybody ... for the city, the county and for Cleveland Utilities,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler sees a plethora of benefits from the CU investment which he will formally present to the CU Board next week in a called session set for noon on Tuesday, Aug. 16, in the Cleveland Utilities Training Center.
A few of the proposal’s advantages, as outlined by Wheeler Tuesday in an interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner, include:
- The Cleveland Utilities contribution would reduce the amount of money needed from local government for the property’s purchase; instead of the original $3 million each from city of Cleveland and Bradley County governments, the amount would drop to $2 million, equaling the CU investment.
- Purchase of the property would save Cleveland Utilities “millions of dollars” worth of new infrastructure costs at another location not already serviced by the local utility because the Spring Branch property has access to full CU services — electric, water and sewer.
- Cleveland Utilities would receive in exchange 25 acres of the industrial park as a future site within 10 to 15 years for an Electric Division Operations Center, not one for customer flow but for storage of materials, utility poles, vehicles and trucks; it also would be used as a staging area for construction crews.
n Cleveland Utilities’ investment would be reimbursed as the industrial park parcels are sold; the 25-acre allotment to CU (a $375,000 value based on the park’s pricing of $15,000 per acre) would be credited as part of the reimbursement.
n In its long term, the 25-acre exchange would save Cleveland Utilities on higher expansion costs. This is because CU has no more room for growth at its current 13-acre site on Guthrie Drive, and neighboring property is priced at $200,000.
n The Spring Branch Industrial Park would give local economic development efforts a new facility inside the city limits.
n Partnered with pending improvements to the Interstate 75 Exit 20 interchange and APD 40, easy access to I-75 would become a major recruitment tool for the new industrial park.
Wheeler first proposed the idea in an email to members of the Cleveland Utilities Board — Aubrey Ector (chairman), Mitchell Lyle, Eddie Cartwright, Chari Buckner and Mayor Tom Rowland. The subject surfaced Monday at a Cleveland City Council session when Councilman Bill Estes said he is encouraged by the Cleveland Utilities offer.
In Wheeler’s email, which apparently made its way to Council members, the CU general manager acknowledged a lot of work has already gone into planning the new $6 million Spring Branch Industrial Park. However, its future is in jeopardy because of a lack of available funding from local government.
In a prior session, the City Council agreed to fund $3 million, provided the county would match the amount. The Cleveland Utilities offer would slice the local government share by 33 percent.
Wheeler said he forwarded the email proposal to utility board members in his role as the CU general manager, not as the EDC chairman.
“I have been increasingly concerned that this opportunity to create a new [industrial] park is slipping by us,” Wheeler said. “With the recent successes we have experienced in Bradley County, our inventory of publicly held industrial property has been reduced to a very low number. We are almost out of the business of being able to show publicly held property to prospective industry.”
Wheeler said a community of Cleveland’s size should have 400 to 500 acres of property available for industrial recruitment.
“At a time when we are poised to be able to reap additional industry due to our current dynamics, many are satisfied to sit on our successes,” Wheeler’s utility board email cited. “With unemployment still at or near 10 percent in our county, it is not the time to stop the process of trying to add more good-paying jobs to our community.”
In addition, local government and economic development interests need an industrial park site that is already located inside the city, Wheeler said.
“This property [Spring Branch] has already been annexed and is sitting next to a TVA electric delivery point [CU’s South Cleveland Electric Substation in operation since 1993] and already has access to water and sewer,” Wheeler noted. He said CU already has a 12-inch water line and an existing sewer line running parallel to APD 40.
Even more benefits await the Spring Branch Industrial Park, he added.
“With the improvements planned for Exit 20 and the new interchange on APD 40, the availability to interstate access cannot be matched anywhere in the county,” Wheeler explained. “I know of no other available property near the city limits of Cleveland that can be bought and developed for the cost associated with this project.”
Wheeler called the $15,000-per-acre price tag on the Spring Branch site, “... a real bargain considering that property in much less desirable locations has been priced as high as $50,000 per acre. For the future economic growth of Cleveland and Bradley County, this is a project that must be carried forward.”
In his email, Wheeler told utility board members if they approve his proposal, “It may tip the scales in order to make the project a reality.”
He added, “There is certainly enough justification from our utility standpoint to make the contribution cost justifiable ... the main justification being that our infrastructure is already in place. A move to another location would certainly cost several million dollars to put it in the same position as this current site.”
Wheeler said the annual interest on CU’s $2 million debt would be about $30,000 per year if the money is borrowed now from the Tennessee Bond Fund. “I would also request that as land in the park is sold off, CU be reimbursed its share of the income,” Wheeler reiterated.
Wheeler said he believes the proposal is a win for the entire community; however, in the long term it especially will benefit Cleveland Utilities. It’s all about paying less now as opposed to more later, he added.
“As our area continues to grow, we will soon need more land to expand our operations,” Wheeler said. “Cleveland Utilities has 13 acres [at the current Guthrie Drive site] and we are limited as to the availability of land to expand. In addition, the land around us is approaching $200,000 per acre in cost.”
The CU leader stressed, “I think it makes perfect sense for CU to participate in this park. I have run the idea in front of the local TVA representative and he sees it as very justifiable.”
Next week’s called session of the CU board has been scheduled exclusively for discussion of Wheeler’s proposal.
“I feel like it will be received favorably,” Wheeler said of the coming board review. “I see this as a very positive thing ... a win-win situation for everybody.”