Chapin Vs. Chapin Town Center Competition Fails To Materialize At Crowded Lookout Mountain, Ga., Council Meeting

Thursday, September 20, 2012 - by Gail Perry

A standing room only crowd attended the Lookout Mountain, Ga., City Council meeting Thursday night to see Jimmy Chapin and Greg Voges present a new plan for developing the town center. An anticipated second proposal from Garnet Chapin with architect Michael McGowan was not made at the meeting due to another obligation of Mr. Chapin - a McCallie School event at which he was to receive an award. Mr. McGowan was present, but did not address the council.

The proposal includes two municipal buildings, one for the Fire and Police Departments and the other to be used as the Town Hall. Additionally, there is an 8,000-square-foot building planned as a grocery store and deli with outdoor seating. Another would be used as a doctor’s office.

These structures will take up most of the existing space. The style will be very traditional using local, natural materials in keeping with the Fairyland style.

The most important part of the design, said Jimmy Chapin, is an amphitheater at the back of the site which will use the existing steep slope for tiered seating, stepped with mountain stone and grass and a stage in the front. A grassy path would connect the site through the center to the new walkway along Scenic Highway. An access road that now exists, would be replaced with a clock tower equipped with two fireplaces and would provide outside seating areas.

The developers are willing and ready to be responsible for depositing $500,000 upon closing the sale of the property, they said. They are hoping to get $300,000 for building the amphitheater and clock tower in a later part of the work from fundraising, but will put up the money personally, if needed, the council was told. The city would have the option of buying or leasing municipal space. The cost to lease that space would be $7,000 per month. The city would then become the anchor tenant of the development.

Mayor Bill Glascock said the council would welcome seeing the alternate plan, but it needs to be done quickly.

No decisions were made at Thursday’s meeting. Mayor Glascock said this meeting was to hear what the residents think and that the council will need to study the plan and discuss it further in order to make a decision. He said the council members need more detail and that it is still in a very preliminary state. 

Relocation of Dr. Bill Moore Smith’s medical office has been a big consideration in plans of the new Village Center. Mayor Glascock asked Dr. Smith what it would take, for the city to get him to move into the new building. He answered that this will be a financial issue for him. He said that having Erlanger as a partner is really a gift to the community because the hospital is willing to absorb some of the cost for establishing the practice on the mountain. He added that personally he would have to be able to afford it. That conversation will be continued when more details are known about the newly presented proposal.  

The mission statement made by the developers for this new Fairyland Village Center, is “Creating a world class Village Center serving the community of Lookout Mountain while preserving the image of Fairyland.” Mr. Chapin said that the city had done a comprehensive plan in 2009 which made proposals for growth for the next 100 years. He had used a lot of those ideas and concepts and added some of his own in this new design. His goal is to create an icon that will affect the future in a positive way.

Conceptual drawings were done by architect Garth Brown. Mr. Chapin told the crowd that the buildings and site plan may change from these drawings based on the needs of the actual tenants. One problem with both of the plans, said Mayor Glascock, is that there is no letter of intent from any tenant, which is needed by a developer before any project is begun. Another thing missing, he said, is that an architect needs to put the plan to scale to make sure that it works. It would be necessary for details such as confirming that a turning radius is feasible.

One resident questioned the developer about what studies had been done to determine the kind of businesses that a population of 7,000 can support. Since the grocery store is a key element of the plan, it was pointed out that there may not be enough business to support both a new store in addition to the Market on the Mountain that is already located on the Tennessee side. Mr. Chapin optimistically answered that this development is a high-traffic area, and that the population of 7,000 versus 2,000 on the Tennessee side could supply enough business to support the store. Mr. Voges added that he might have discussions with the Tennesssee market about making a move. He said “we’re not here to compete.”

The timeline given by the developers is Sept. 30 for receiving a bid approval, Oct. 15 for closing on the purchase of the site, Nov. 1 for site work to begin with demolition, and June 1, 2014 for completion. In a brief discussion of the proposal, several council members said this timeline was ambitious. Any plan must first go before the planning board, and there must be a public hearing. Some elements may require a variance to be built.

In general, the council had a positive reaction to the concept and plan, but had reservations about financing it. It was the consensus, however, that a decision needs to be made soon.

In other business, Blair Ramey made a recommendation to the council concerning the refinancing of the sewer system. After a competitive process with nine financial institutions, he concluded that the best option for the city was to use the Bank of Lafayette. This agreement will add two additional years to the debt, which is currently eight years, but by refinancing it, the net present value of the savings will be $61,000.

A new millage rate for the city will need to be finalized soon so that tax bills can be prepared. The council will meet again on Sept. 27 to decide on a new rate. The second reading to approve the newly established millage rate will be on Oct. 4. 

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