Nearly two years after buying the McDonald Farm north of Sale Creek for future industrial and business growth, Hamilton County commissioners will consider a grant request next week to begin to develop the farm with water service and an upgraded road entrance to facilitate both commercial and recreational development of the 2,170-acre property.
Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp said Wednesday he hopes the farm, which the county purchased in December 2021 for $16 million, will soon be included as a certified site for industrial development by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Tennessee has 47 certified industrial sites across the state, but Hamilton County doesn't have any industrial parks on the state's list of major site-ready locations for industrial development.
On Friday, the state will begin considering the next round of grants for industrial park development. Hamilton County is seeking $5 million of state money to help fund $7.5 million of utility and road upgrades. County commissioners will decide next week whether to match the state grant, if approved, with $2.5 million of county funds to build a water loop to provide water service across the farm and to upgrade Coulterville Road entering the Sale Creek property.
"This grant is a really important step," Wamp said in an interview following the County Commission's agenda session Wednesday. "This comes at the same time we are applying and expecting McDonald Farm to become a certified site, hopefully very soon."
But industrial development of the farm may be five or more years away after the property is developed with sewer, water and road connections to attract new industry and potentially office parks and new recreational facilities, Wamp said.
McDonald Farm offers a rich potential to serve not only Hamilton County but other neighboring counties and the state as a whole, the mayor said. The farm straddles both sides of the Hamilton County and Rhea County border and is likely to draw workers from a number of nearby rural counties that are regarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission as either economically distressed or at-risk, including Rhea, Meigs and Bledsoe counties.
"We're doing the steps that we believe have value, no matter the outcome of this property," Wamp said. "As we move forward, I am encouraging everyone to see the McDonald Farm as a partnership between the county and the state of Tennessee. We can't do it alone, and the benefits of this project should help our entire region and the entire state."
Providing sewer service to the site may require extending sewer lines to the farm from the city of Dayton, which is closer than running lines all the way to the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant in Chattanooga, Wamp said.
Hamilton County officials are having ongoing conversations with the city of Dayton, the county's Waste and Water Treatment Authority and the state but doesn't have clarity yet about how to proceed with providing sewer service to the site, Wamp said.
Nathan Janeway, director of development services for Hamilton County, said the county has made a number of building and power service upgrades since buying the McDonald Farm and is preparing the site for the upcoming Hamilton County Fair, which is scheduled for Nov. 10-12.
The three-day fair will be one of the biggest such fairs in Hamilton County, and Wamp said the McDonald Farm offers an ideal site for such a fair.
Longer term, the county is asking the Tennessee Department of Transportation to build a new bypass road directly into the new industrial park off of Highway 27.
In July, the county authorized spending more than $101,000 to hire a consultant to evaluate a sinkhole at a dam built on the property. Janeway said he hopes to hear recommendations for how to address the sinkhole problem within the next month.