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Business Pulse - New industrial park on way
Rock Island Marketplace - the guys.jpg
Robb Rutledge, left, and Scott Williams have opened Rock Island Pottery and Marketplace Plus Antiques at the old Levi factory in Campaign. They are pictured inside their showroom on a vintage sofa.

The breaking news of the week is the Industrial Development Board has voted to purchase 218 acres of land at the Coffee County line for a new industrial park.

The purchase comes at a price of $981,000, or $4,500 an acre, and will be paid for using funds the IDB already has in various bank accounts.

The purchase is heralded as a way to give Warren County a viable megasite unlike any other industrial property in the state. Given our location between automotive giants, such as Volkswagen in Chattanooga and Nissan in Smryna, it is believed the new industrial park will allow us to recruit a big-time employer with hundreds of jobs.

But the deal isn’t entirely ice cream with chocolate syrup. The land is desirable because it’s as close to Interstate 24 as you can get and still be in Warren County. However, there’s not clear access to Manchester Highway.

Two property owners are between the 218-acre industrial park and Manchester Highway and one of those property owners has said no to the idea of selling land for an access road. 

It appears the IDB will have to find another way to access Manchester Highway, which is why three members voted against buying the land during Thursday’s monthly IDB meeting. The measure passed by a 6-3 roll call vote, which is the first roll call vote I can recall in a decade of covering the IDB.

“I think we could be hung out to dry,” said IDB member Trevor Galligan. “It may just be the attorney in me, but it seems like we have too many loose ends.”

IDB member Sandra Haynes countered by saying, “In my 10 to 12 years on the board, we’ve never had an opportunity like this. I think we need to take it.”

IDB member Tommy Foster added, “It’s not a perfect scenario, but I think things can be worked out. This is a great site and I hate for us not to exercise this and go forward.”

IDB members Brent McCay and Scot MacDonald also expressed reservations about making such a huge purchase without highway access secured.

The motion to buy the 218 acres was brought to a vote with six members voting in favor of buying – Mike Millard, Jeff Golden, Sandra Haynes, Brent Nunley, Tommy Foster, and Andy Knowles.

Galligan, McCay and MacDonald all voted against buying the land.

New IDB member Jenny Nafrada, just appointed by the County Commission on Monday, said she didn’t feel comfortable voting on the measure and abstained.

IDB director Don Alexander pointed out the site is just 10 miles from Interstate 24, is relatively flat, and has rail access. He was a big supporter for buying the land.

“This property will probably take a couple years to develop but we’d have a great site for the purposes of creating jobs for this community,” said Alexander.

There was a sense of urgency to buy the land because the IDB’s option on the property was set to expire April 30. The feeling was if IDB members let the option expire, a new asking price might be well over $4,500 an acre.

New marketplace

welcomes artisans

It’s been just a matter of days since Robb Rutledge and Scott Williams opened Rock Island Pottery and Marketplace on Thursday and they’re already talking about expanding.

The response has been that strong.

“We said 70 vendors in our ad, but we’re getting more people every day and we have at least 168 who have inquired about a spot,” said Robb. “Rock Island is becoming such a growing artistic area and it’s great because art is healing and a way to overcome.”

Rock Island Pottery and Marketplace is located in a building with deep pockets when it comes to history. The Levi Strauss factory in Campaign operated there for years, according to county historian Jimmy Haley, before announcing in June 1984 it would zip up operations and close the plant. Lion Industry purchased the building in 1985 to make uniforms.

The 50,000-square-foot building has been vacant in recent years. A company manufactured tall director’s-type chairs there probably 15 years ago, and Jackson Kayak briefly used the facility for a few months while it was waiting to move into its building in White County. Other than that, the building has been resting comfortably on Sparta Highway as quiet as a tombstone.

Thankfully, Rock Island Pottery and Marketplace has given the facility life. On Friday, people were pushing through the doors and ambling around the artwork with body language that signaled approval.

“This building provided jobs for families for years,” said Robb, who indicated both his parents worked at the Levi’s plant.

The marketplace currently occupies just the front section of the building but plans are to take more square footage. Pottery classes begin later this month and there are plans for a coffee shop to provide caffeinated invigoration.

There’s a wide spectrum of vendors offering just about everything including pottery, furniture, quilts, jewelry, photography, paintings, artistic driftwood, handbags, glassware and more.

Scott said plans are to open Rock Island Rescue in the coming weeks. The rescue will accept clothing and other necessities for fire victims.

“My house burned as a child so I know the things you go through,” said Scott. “The insurance company might put you up in a hotel but then you’re there with no toothpaste and no deodorant. You don’t have anything. Maybe we can pull our community together a bit with this rescue organization.”

Blessed with a spacious parking lot, a Farmers Market will be offered outside on Fridays and Saturdays. Robb says a USDA-approved meat salesman will be one of the vendors. Robb expects the Farmers Market to be small the first few weeks before gaining velocity.

In addition to everything else, the marketplace has cinnamon buns on a limited basis. I’m not ashamed to admit I ate one of those cinnamon buns on Friday and I don’t feel guilty about it.

Hours are Tuesday thru Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the phone number is 686-2000. 

Dr. Rone leaves


When he retired last month, Dr. Norman Rone admitted he might return at some point to fill leaves when other eye doctors were unavailable for extended stretches.

Rone must be a good eye doctor because he could certainly see into the future with that prediction.

As Dr. Jennifer Elder leaves the McMinnville practice of Eye Centers of Tennessee at 220 N. Chancery Street, Dr. Rone is coming aboard for about six weeks. Rone will bring his 55 years of experience to the practice beginning May 1.

He will be keeping the seat warm so to speak for Dr. Kelsey Elliott, who will start at the McMinnville office on July 15.

A native of Chattanooga, Dr. Elliott majored in biology with a chemistry minor at Southern Adventist University before attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. When she’s not seeing patients, Dr. Elliott is a canine-loving outdoorswoman and artist.

“Though we were saddened to learn that Dr. Elder, a patient and staff favorite, will be leaving us, we are ecstatic to let our McMinnville-area patients know that Dr. Elliott will continue delivering the high-quality eye care they’ve grown accustomed to,” said Dr. Michael Patterson, partner at Eye Centers of Tennessee. “Dr. Elliott is an all-star practitioner and we look forward to introducing her to the McMinnville community.”

To set an appointment with Dr. Elliott or Dr. Rone, call 473-2487. Eye Centers of Tennessee has offices in Crossville, Cookeville, Jamestown, McMinnville, and Byrdstown and has provided care for 30 years.

A great day

To be alive

If you like ceremonies and people speaking into microphones, Friday will be a great day in Warren County.

The entire community is invited to a groundbreaking celebration Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. at the site of our new Hampton Inn hotel on Sparta Street. The property is directly across the street from Saint Thomas River Park Hospital.

Hotel owner David Hunt will be among those speaking as work will soon begin on what will be a three-story facility with around 80 rooms.

Just a few blocks away, a grand opening celebration will be held at 11 a.m. for McMinnville’s glistening new Automation and Robotics Training Center on Vo Tech Drive. Unfortunately, due to limited seating, this is not an open party and an invitation is required.

I’m confident I’ll write more about both these events in next week’s column so stay tuned.

That’s all folks

May chocolate bunnies fill your Easter celebration, but remember the real meaning of the holiday is beating your sister to the Golden Egg.

Phone in business tips at 473-2191.