- Associated Press - Sunday, March 1, 2015

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - An old abandoned factory can go beyond being a rusty eyesore.

The former 23-acre Chromalox grounds, for example, transformed from an empty factory between Memorial Boulevard and the neighboring Boys and Girls Clubs of Rutherford County campus in Murfreesboro to pleasing city officials by emerging as a redevelopment.

The former factory location that built tubular metal electric heating elements now offers a mix of businesses, including a Regions Bank branch, a Burger King, an Office Depot and other stores that soon will include a Dollar General in a fast-growing city that reached a 2013 U.S. Census estimated population of 117,044.

“We as a community would want every property to have the maximum potential for redevelopment,” said Sam Huddleston, an environmental engineer for the Murfreesboro government.

The city has had other factories joining Chromalox in getting torn down through the years, including General Electric last year. Other factories have been renovated for new purposes.

Prior to Chromalox being torn down in 2003, the factory had up to 850 workers while it operated from 1956 to 1998, according to press reports and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Owned by Emerson Electric, the factory closed November 1999, and the operation transferred to La Vergne.

The old factory grounds offered potential, Huddleston said.

Redevelopment benefits the city because it’s more cost-effective to use existing roads and utility lines than to build something new and the needed infrastructure to go with it on a green space in a rural area, Huddleston said.

Chromalox also manufactured specialty-woven heating elements after it opened in 1956 near Lokey Avenue, which has since been widened and redeveloped to be part of Medical Center Parkway. By 1998, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation began inspecting the removal of contaminated soil at the empty factory for what was classified as a brownfield site, acreage previously used for industrial or commercial purposes, TDEC spokesman Eric Ward said.

TDEC has watched over the cleanup and removal of the Chromalox facility, along with the tearing down of the old General Electric factory on Northwest Broad Street. There are no other brownfield sites in Rutherford County, Ward said.

About five years after TDEC began inspections of removal of contaminated soils, Charlie Carpenter of the Carpenter Group of Marietta, Georgia, purchased the old Chromalox site in 2003 and joined in the state efforts to tear down the factory and clean up the property for redevelopment, Huddleston recalled.

“His vision was for that to become a retail facility with a variety of national companies,” Huddleston said during an interview in his office at City Hall.

Tearing down the factory also involved a major effort that included removing of asbestos and salvaging what could be recycled, Huddleston said.

“He completed a redevelopment plan to stage the property, so it could be reused,” Huddleston said. “Charlie expanded drainage in his plan.”

The large drainage area by the tall trees at the southwest intersection of Memorial and Medical Center Parkway handles the significant water that can accumulate on the 23-acre property, Huddleston said.

Carpenter also participated in the city’s efforts to widen Lokey into a five-lane portion of Medical Center Parkway by providing right of way and easements, said Huddleston, adding that the private-public partnership included plans pertaining to all infrastructure.

The environmental engineer recalled how the local government raised up the road and bought land on the opposite side of the new parkway area from the old Chromalox grounds to address the drainage problems in the area.

The former Lokey stretch re-emerged as a high-speed connector parkway between Memorial, which is part of U.S. Highway 231, and Northwest Broad Street, which is part of U.S. Highway 41, Huddleston said.

Carpenter’s project in 2004 first attracted Office Depot to build a store. Since then, a Regions Bank, Burger King and a strip shopping center that in 2010 included a U.S. Census office, has also developed on the old Chromalox grounds.

Businesses operating at the strip center at this time include the Center for Spine, Joint & Neuro Muscular Rehabilitation, Strong Body Nutrition, Achieve Medical Weight Loss and Fast Signs. A Dunkin’ Donuts is also supposed to open in the next 10 weeks.

An entrance to the redevelopment off Memorial Boulevard entices drivers with “The Village” name attached to the decorative curved brick walls that lead shoppers to the businesses operating on the old Chromalox grounds.

Although Carpenter’s work was a key in transforming the Chomalox grounds, his business project failed, Huddleston said.

Carpenter had to give up the property to Branch Banking and Trust Co. for two reasons: The Avenue Murfreesboro shopping center attracted many of the national retailers that Carpenter sought, and then the Great Recession created slumping economic conditions starting in 2007, Huddleston said.

To keep the redevelopment effort moving, Murfreesboro developer Mark Pirtle ended up buying the remaining 7.2 acres to pursue new projects there, he said during an interview at his office. This includes a Dollar General that he’s leasing and will open soon.

Pirtle is also developing a Beauty Lounge on the old Chromalox grounds, and the Murfreesboro Planning Commission has approved the initial site plan for this project.

In addition to the Dollar General and Beauty Lounge, Pirtle sold a portion of the property to Dr. Craig McCabe, who is building a $6 million eye clinic and surgery center.

Another Pirtle development will bring three duplex offices to the former Chromalox property to serve up to six professional services, such as accountants, engineers and architects.

All of this means increasing jobs and property tax rolls and sales tax revenues, said Pirtle, who was also involved in the redevelopment of the former State Farm regional office that used to sit on Northwest Broad Street off Memorial Boulevard, a short distance from Chromalox.

Older buildings are similar to used cars, said Huddleston, the city environmental engineer.

Sometimes cars no longer can operate in an efficient way and end up in a salvage yard, and buildings can be the same way, Huddleston said.

The old Middle Tennessee Medical Center, which included the original Rutherford Hospital, is an example of a building in which the owners relocated the staff and were unable to sell the former building for another purpose after constructing what is now called Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital on Medical Center Parkway, Huddleston said. So the hospital owners tore down its older buildings off Highland Avenue and Lytle Street, and were able to sell their grounds, a more modern Bell Street Building, parking lots and a parking garage to nearby MTSU.

“We see redevelopment and repurposing of buildings all the time,” Huddleston said. “A lot of our properties are second-hand properties. Whether they’ve been torn down, repurposed and reused, a lot of our properties have been redeveloped.”

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