County Commission members were told Wednesday that a local firm's effort to invest $85 million and create 120 new jobs in Chattanooga got absolutely no help from city government.
Officials of Southern Champion Tray on Tuesday announced the major project, but the press release did not have any quotes from Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke as usually would be the case.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger praised the project "by a local legacy family", saying the firm could have set up the new operation at one of its other sites at Mansfield, Tex., that it was considering.
County government agreed on a five-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for the firm for the new facility just off Amnicola Highway. But Southern Champion Tray will be paying the full rate to the city.
Steve Hiatt, of the Chamber of Commerce, said it was the first such project within the city limits in which city government had not joined in the PILOT.
Brian Hunt, chief operations officer for Southern Champion Tray, said he had conversations with Mayor Berke about the firm's requests for aid but did not get any help. He said, "We had a very difficult time even getting a response."
Mr. Hunt said the company then turned its request to the city for infrastructure. He said there is a sewer pipe across the property, and the city said it would not move it. He said the city was asked if it would pave a dirt road between the site and Hamilton Plastics so that both could use it, but the city was not willing to do that.
Commissioner Greg Martin said he was disappointed by the city's response and said, "I find that curious." Mr. Hiatt said, "I share your curiosity. We were told no is all I can say at this point."
He added, "We were most appreciative to the county for stepping forward to bring these jobs and investment here."
County Mayor Coppinger said he had not spoken to Mayor Berke about why the city would not help the firm owned by the Zeiser family.
Commissioner Tim Boyd said the city often comes up with projects and says they can only go forward if the county gives its share. He said the latest example is when the city was requiring that the county make an equal contribution to a downtown freeway beautification project or else it would be a no go.
He said, "I will remember this day and throw it in their face that they turned their back on this local company."
Terms of the five-year PILOT with the county include payment of zero taxes to the county the first year, 25 percent the second year, 40 percent the third year and 50 percent the fourth year. However, the full amount of the school tax would be paid.
Southern Champion Tray will also be paying a development fee to local governments.
It is getting a $1.2 million state grant toward infrastructure.
The 56.63-acre property is at the Centre South Riverport. County Mayor Coppinger said it has been for sale for decades. He said it includes some wetlands and the firm is going to have to spend about $5 million to make the site usable.
He said, for that reason, the site was sold at a reduced price. He said Riverport property goes for around $75,000 per acre, but this was sold for $45,000 an acre. The total land price was $2,548,350.
Mr. Hiatt said Southern Champion Tray "has been growing like crazy" and has no place to put some of the new equipment it needs.