Village Update Meeting: BP Construction Plans

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

“We don’t want to create internal competition. It’s not a big village. It’s not to anyone’s benefit for anything to go dark,” said Jim Cheney, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for BP Construction. Cheney addressed the community at the March Sewanee Village update meeting, discussing BP’s philosophy and plans as the lead developer for the Sewanee Village project.

The University tapped the Chattanooga developer to coordinate development in the Village following two years of discussion about the project’s goals and the cultural and socioeconomic circumstances particular to the community.

“The first building we were asked to examine is the market block,” Cheney said, referencing the mixed-use grocery and apartment building planned for the lot currently occupied by the Hair Depot.

“The initial footprint has shrunk, making it possible for a second or third building on the lot.” At present, Cheney anticipates ground floor retail space in the mixed-use building could be half the 10,000 square feet initially proposed with 12 to 14 apartments on the second floor, 400-700 square feet in size.

In researching what will work in the retail space, Cheney said, “The first conversation will be with the operator of the existing market.”

Cheney predicted apartment rent in the $2-$2.50 per square foot range, but stressed, “If we can’t get that, we’ll need to reconfigure the project.”

As for future development beyond the specialty food market and apartment building, Cheney said BP wouldn’t “move forward until at least 75 percent of the building was leased.”

Citing a Chattanooga area project, Cheney said, “Usually developers do residential first, but we did commercial first. We spent a lot of time doing community relations work asking people what they were looking for, and then recruited for those uses.”

“We do all the marketing and leasing ourselves. My sense is that what the Village needs is more mundane uses, not bars and restaurants. We want to invigorate the Village concept without damaging existing entities, to find businesses that work together.”

“We need a strong retail market to attract other retail markets,” agreed Frank Gladu, who heads up the Village project.

Cheney emphasized the importance of promoting activity on the proposed Village Green. BP requested being involved in developing the green and envisions it as a site for music events and other activities with no charge to presenters and users—“The green is free.”

Gladu noted design plans for narrowing Highway 41A now included a trailhead for the Mountain Goat Trail near the green.

Asked about the future of the Sewanee Community Center, Cheney said, “If it’s established, we don’t want to undercut it, but augment it.”

Gladu concurred. “There’s no reason to disrupt activity and vitality that already exists. We want as much activity on each side of the green as possible. I would love for the community center to say they needed to expand.” Gladu cited an area next to the American Legion Hall as a possible location for a new community center.

Cheney also emphasized the importance of fostering Sewanee as a visitor destination along the Nashville-Chattanooga corridor in order to support complimentary retail businesses.

Gladu acknowledged the need for “transient visitor housing” and said it was “on the radar screen,” suggesting rentable townhouses as a possible solution.

“The Village concept is a broader economic development initiative for the whole Plateau region,” Cheney insisted. “It could have a significant economic impact on the entire community.”