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Council seeks ways to fill empty retail space

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By PATRICK HALL
The Wilson Post

Following a controversial issue to bring more retail and tax revenue to Lebanon, several city councilors expressed the desire to improve the retail space already available but sitting vacant across town during Tuesday nights meeting.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston brought up the point that many local retail strips have empty space such as the strip on West Main where Bi-Lo was once located, the Kroger shopping center and Publix shopping center.

Can we waive or lower taxes on empty businesses to get tenants into those spaces? Huddleston asked City Attorney Andy Wright.

Huddleston felt these spaces needed to be filled before the city began looking ahead on a project such as the Cumberland Center, which proposed 1 million square feet of new retail space.

Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead pointed out that Bi-Lo is still paying the rent on that building and noted several possible tenants have asked about a space that size. He noted if a large anchor tenant were not present, the empty space flanking the old Bi-Lo location would not fill out.

Wright said there were red flags about waiving or lowering taxes to entice retailers to occupy empty space, but said he would look into the matter.

The west side of town is a ghost town, said Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath.

Warmath pointed out stores are less likely to occupy retail space if they are not near an interstate exit. She pointed out Kroger and Publix have empty spaces along their shopping centers due to this problem.

Recently, Cozumels, a Mexican restaurant in the Kroger shopping center that has been present there for many years, has gone out of business. Warmath and Huddleston wanted to look to improving the occupancy of existing retail space before looking to build more retail.

Warmath also noted the local William D. Baird Industrial Park has fallen into the ground, noting the economy is still poor and that businesses of all kinds are suffering.

The council also held a work session prior to the meeting where they discussed the construction of the Cedar City Trail and the impact of the Tennessee Department of Transportation no longer accepting funds in-kind for local match of the project.

The city was responsible for 20 percent of the project cost, an estimated $250,131.50. Initially, the city planned to use preliminary engineering and right-of-way donations as the local match, but federal guidelines now exclude those from being used.

Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Baines said the city had budgeted $115,000 toward engineering for the project and a consultant has been chosen, but work has not begun. The council plans to reevaluate the method they wish to fund the continuing construction of the trail in the future based on the new guidelines.

During the meeting, Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino said he was against spending more money for the trail and improvements to Don Fox Park while other areas of the city have no parks or have parks in decline.

He pointed to Elkins Park and Hobbs Field on Elkins Drive in Lebanon as a declining park that needs an upgrade.

Id love to see parks elsewhere, all these people at Hobbs park, theyve got nothing, the people on the west side have nothing, Cesternino said.

The council will hold a special called meeting this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. in the Town Meeting Hall of the Lebanon Administration Building to consider many ordinances that passed on first reading during Tuesday nights meeting.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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