ROGERSVILLE — With US Bank closing its downtown branch, the Rogersville Chamber of Commerce, which is located on the bank’s ground floor, will be looking for a new home.
However, the Hawkins County Industrial Development Board, which rents the second floor of the building, 107 E. Main St., won’t be immediately affected by the closure.
Prior to Thursday’s IDB meeting, several board members were speculating whether that would be the group’s last meeting in the conference room.
IDB Chairman Larry Elkins informed the board Thursday, however, that he had received notice from the bank that all upper floor tenants were welcome to stay.
An email received by the IDB recently from facility manager Mary Jo Parks states that the US Bank branch and first floor of the building will be closing on May 21.
“The branch only is closing and this closing will not affect the building, any tenants of the building, the maintenance, or any lease agreements,” Parks states in the email. “We appreciate you as a tenant and are glad you’re here.”
The IDB occupies the second floor offices and conference room in exchange for paying a portion of the overall building utilities bill — which Elkins said is a very good deal for the county.
“We just signed a three year agreement last summer for the area we occupy, so according to what they’re saying, we’re good,” Elkins said. “I feel a lot better about it because when we first heard it, we pretty much thought the building is going to go up for sale, and we’ll have to move almost immediately. But they’ve pretty much assured us they’re going to stick with the lease.”
The Chamber of Commerce, which receives offices on the ground flood of the bank rent-free, won’t be so lucky.
Director Nancy Barker told the Times News Thursday she will have to be out of her offices by May 21, and she is currently looking for a new location.
The Chamber’s rent-free situation is going to be hard to duplicate, but she said she’s been in discussion with the city, which recently purchased the former attorney general’s offices located on Kyle Street next door to City Hall.
The Kyle Street facility is in need of repairs, however. Barker said she needs at least two offices, a conference room and storage space.
And she’s dreading the move, which involves relocating 20 years’ worth of records and materials.
Grant sought for Phipps Bend water system
Also during Thursday’s IDB meeting, the board was informed that one of its hottest new industrial prospects is still interested in Phipps Bend, but improvements are needed to the industrial park’s water system.
Prospective new industries prefer to remain anonymous, so they’re given nicknames. One of the prospects which is currently active at Phipps Bend is referred to as Bluebird.
NETWORKS Director of Economic Development Michael Parker told the IDB that Phipps Bend remains in the running for project Bluebird, which has narrowed its search for potential locations to about 10, including one other site in Northeast Tennessee.
The nature of Bluebird’s business isn’t being released, but Elkins noted that it will be a major consumer of water, which places more pressure on the IDB and Surgoinsville Utility District to address issues with the water system at Phipps Bend.
Elkins reported to the board that he had been in a meeting Thursday morning with the SUD, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, NETWORKS, the First Tennessee Development District and the engineering firm Mattern & Craig to discuss proposed improvements to the water lines and the park’s 750,000-gallon water tank.
A grant application with the Appalachian Regional Commission is pending to complete that work. Elkins said he spoke to ARC representatives in Nashville, who said a decision about the grant may be released within the next week or two.
Last year, a broken water line at Phipps Bend disrupted production throughout the park. As a result, the IDB wants to install valves so that future leaks can be isolated and won’t affect every industry.
The water tank is also scheduled for a mandatory refurbishment.
Birchfield steps down from IDB
Elkins reported the resignation of board member Tony Birchfield, who will have to step down due to his business at Phipps Bend planning an expansion which will require IDB assistance.
Birchfield co-owns the TABCO plant, and Phipps Bend Joint Venture attorney Gorman Waddell advised the IDB that it can’t do business with a sitting board member.
“Tony has been a real asset to the board, done a great job for several years now, but his business takes priority and he’s wanting to expand,” Elkins said. “We hate to see Tony go because he is in business and has a good feel for what businesses need.”
Elkins presented board members with a resume from Hawkins County Gas Utility general manager Patrick Lund. He asked board members to review that resume and be prepared to vote next month on Lund or any other nominees.