October 25, 2019 10:00am

Power Poll: TVA Deal Looks Good

Our latest survey of local community leaders shows strong support for Knox County’s proposed lease of the vacant East Tower.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark
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A sizable majority of Knoxville decision-makers who responded to the latest Power Poll are in support of the proposal to move Knox County Schools’ Central Office functions into the Tennessee Valley Authority’s vacant East Tower on Summit Hill Drive.

Of those who responded to the email survey, 61 percent favored the deal, 21 percent opposed it, and 18 percent were unsure.

Last month, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and his staff presented the outlines of the deal to a joint meeting of County Commission and the Knox County school board. Both bodies would need to approve the proposal.

Under the deal, the county would sell the historic Andrew Johnson Building on South Gay Street to Nashville developers BNA, who have proposed a boutique hotel for the 1929 building — returning it to its original use — along with apartments on the upper floors.

The school offices that have occupied the A.J. Building since 1992 would move into six floors of the 12-story East Tower. The county could then either use the remaining six floors for other county functions or sublease the space to another party. The University of Tennessee has confirmed that it is interested in moving its systemwide administrative offices off the Knoxville campus into the TVA building.

The package also includes county ownership of TVA’s Summer Place garage and office building, which would provide parking for the East Tower occupants.

The deal — which is still being negotiated between the county and TVA — would require upfront investments of $9.975 million to occupy the first six floors of the 12-story office tower, and another $3.5 million to purchase and renovate the Summer Place garage and office building.

That $13.475 million total would be partly offset by the $6 million sale of the A.J. Building. That would make the county’s net outlay $7.565 million.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas and some school board members have raised concerns about the proposal, particularly whether the TVA building would be accessible enough to members of the public. Because it is a federal building, TVA confirmed that under current law, starting next October people will need a verified RealID to enter it.

Thomas has indicated he would prefer to move the school office to more of a campus-like setting, where more school functions could be consolidated and parking would be easier. But no specific site is on the table that would meet those criteria.

Jacobs had hoped to present the deal for approval to the school board and Commission this month, but that has been pushed back to November.

About the Power Poll

The Power Poll is not a scientific poll. It is, instead, a survey taken of the leading citizens and decision-makers in a variety of fields. It includes elected officials, business CEOs and other wealthy individuals, nonprofit leaders, media figures, university presidents, and entertainment and sports figures active in their communities. A total of 325 people in the Knoxville area were queried about the TVA tower deal, with 29 percent responding. To view the membership list, click here.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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