Oct. 09--With its anchor facility well under construction and due to be stocked with a dream list of research equipment, Cherokee Farm Development Corp. CEO Cliff Hawks says it's time to take the project to the next level.
It's time to line up other development for the 188-acre research campus that the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are developing off Alcoa Highway.
"Our goal is to move forward and connect the university and the lab with private companies," he said.
The first building, the $47 million, 142,000-square-foot Joint Institute for Advanced Materials facility, is due to open in early 2015. The rest of the campus will include 16 building sites, seven of which are "shovel-ready" now, Hawks said. These sites, ranging up to 2 acres, should allow a total of 1.6 million square feet of development.
UT and ORNL started development of the campus with $87 million in capital investments and incentives. Now, Hawks, who helped develop projects such as the Tennessee Titans' stadium and Nashville Superspeedway, is focused on moving the project forward.
Several routes are being explored for growing the park, such as developing it for a key tenant, allowing a developer to build space and lease it to tenants, or some combination of these.
"It may be that we have both of those scenarios take place," Hawks said. "That is certainly my hope, but the challenge is that the university is not building the next building. We've got to be creative and successful in developing the remainder of the property."
Lining up another tenant and getting a second building underway will help tip the balance toward filling the park, Hawks said. Long before any ground was broken, talks were underway with entities that had relationships with UT and ORNL. Hawks said he can't divulge names but that there are about seven parties that appear to be serious about locating in the park.
The Cherokee Farm concept came into being about 12 years ago as a way to further research by UT and ORNL in computational sciences, climate and environment, advanced materials, biomedical sciences, and renewable energy. This is part of a UT goal to join the ranks of the nation's top 25 public research universities. The former site of UT's dairy operation was chosen, and development of the property began in 2010.
The Joint Institute for Advanced Materials building will house seven high-powered microscopes that researchers from UT, ORNL and elsewhere will use in screening and analyzing materials. The work is oriented toward producing strong, lightweight materials for the automotive and aerospace industries.
The microscopes are world-class, Hawks said. One of them, the Zeiss Libra 200, stands about 10 feet tall and has a magnification range from 1 to 10 million.
"That means that you could read the mint date on the head of a nickel on the face of the moon," Hawks said.
Researchers will also be able to make use of supercomputers Kraken at UT and Titan at ORNL.
If it is successful, Cherokee Farm has potential to be a boon to Knoxville and the region, producing high-quality jobs and enhancing the area's reputation, Hawks said.
A research campus at the University of Illinois, similar in concept to Cherokee Farm, has 13 buildings and 75 companies, including Dow Chemical, Caterpillar and Yahoo, Hawks said. It provides 1,235 jobs with a total annual payroll of $81.2 million.
Cherokee Farm has a number of elements that should be attractive to potential tenants, Hawks said. It will have a hotel for executives who are visiting the farm's tenants and multilevel parking to keep the rest of the campus pedestrian-oriented.
The site has high visibility and a great location, he said.
"It is about five minutes from downtown, five minutes from the UT campus, 15 minutes from McGhee Tyson Airport and about 25 minutes from the national lab," Hawks said.