VA grounds being appraised…again

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The 39-building, 163-acre Knoxville Veterans Affairs campus has officially been turned over to the General Services Agency (GSA). Currently, the GSA is working with an appraiser who has begun looking at finding the highest and best use for the grounds.

When the appraiser’s work is complete, a value is expected to be determined. It should also be determined whether or not the grounds should be parceled or sold in one purchase.

“We have not been told what direction they plan to go, as far as parceling it out or not,” Mayor Brian Hatch stated in an April 6 email message. “My assumption is that it would make sense and give them the best value to parcel it out, so we are kind of planning for that direction, but still have no confirmation.”

The appraiser’s report is expected to be complete in July. The City has also been told that the report will not be made public.

“They just say it’s proprietary,” City Manager Aaron Adams said. According to Adams, the federal government has stated that if the report is shared with the City, it would have to be shared with investors. The GSA wants to get as much money as possible out of the former VA grounds.

Following the release of the report, Housing and Urban Development will have 30 days to review it to see if any of the buildings or land could be used to serve the homeless – either through homeless shelters or HUD offices. Adams said the indication is that the campus will not be used for either of these purposes.

When that 30-day period expires, the City and other public entities will have 30 days to work with the federal government to obtain buildings or land. If there are still parts of the campus available, it could go to public auction. The timeline for all of this is still not set in stone.

“(The federal government) can’t speed it up, but they can slow it down,” Adams said.

The City has partnered with Glen Lyons, a developer who has worked on repurposing federal grounds in the past – including military bases. Lyons met with the Knoxville City Council on May 7.

Beyond the partnership with Lyons, the City will again engage state and federal officials to prepare for the possibility of obtaining portions of the campus. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Dave Loebsack have long known the issues with the campus and the City’s desire to see it again serve a purpose.

“Our intent is just to turn over every stone,” Adams said. He added that he felt comfortable making a trip to Des Moines and mailing letters to reiterate the City’s need for help. What he most hopes for is federal assistance in handling the campus’s old wastewater treatment system (the campus has its own system and is not connected to the City’s sewer system) and the structures on the south side of Pleasant (the former doctors’ and nurses’ housing). Adams believes that even if those issues are handled it could provide momentum to find takers for the campus. The federal government has already agreed to address underground tanks there.

“We have to try,” Adams said. He went on to say that he recognizes the physical, historical and emotional investment Knoxville has made in the campus over the years.

“We owe it to this community,” he said.

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