published Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

South Pittsburg eyes land purchase for park

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    South Pittsburgh, Tenn., officials may buy this 38 acres of riverfront land near 12 Street and U.S. Highway 72 for use as a park.
    Photo by Tim Omarzu.
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SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- City leaders are making preparations to buy a tract of riverfront property with plans to build a large recreational facility there.

Mayor Mike Killian said he received a letter recently from a representative of Bertha Gonce that stated she wanted to sell the city about 38 acres of riverfront land near 12th Street and U.S. Highway 72 for $12,000 per acre.

The total price for the land would be $454,000 under those terms, officials said.

Killian said the land along the Tennessee River is an "excellent piece of property" with "good proximity" for a park.

"When I went into office, I wanted to get this done long ago," he said. "There have been a lot of things happen here that we've had to deal with that have interfered with that."

City Administrator Bently Thomas said South Pittsburg already owns about 17 acres of adjoining property, so making this purchase would give the city 55 acres along the river.

"There are only so many pieces of property for something like this in South Pittsburg," he said.

City officials have requested preliminary bids for financing the purchase price of the land, and Thomas said it would cost the city about $4,400 per month over 10 years.

Due to an ongoing investigation into South Pittsburg's money management by the state comptroller's office, City Attorney Tracy Wooden said, any purchase the city makes that requires borrowing money has to be approved by the state.

"From a financial standpoint, the city can easily handle this," Killian said. "It is not that major budget-wise."

The city is receiving about $1.8 million per year in tax revenue, he said, and the chance to buy a park site on the river for $12,000 an acre is "pretty nice."

"I am fearful of not accepting this offer," Killian said. "I feel like this is a race-horse deal for the city. The Gonce family wants to sell the land to the city if it's for a park. That's the main stipulation."

The city commission voted unanimously last week to accept the deal, seek approval from the comptroller's office, and begin negotiating loan terms with local banks.

Regardless, the purchase will be an issue for a revamped city board to handle, since a new mayor and two new commissioners will be sworn in next month.

"Unless the state moves fast to approve the loan, there will be no real deal consummated before the next board takes over," Wooden said.

Killian said the board's action was "a little more than a baby step" toward buying the land, but it does show the city's intent to "get this thing going."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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