The phrase “build it and they will come,” comes to mind. I hope East Ridge city officials saw the movie Field of Dreams because we seem to be groping in the dark when it comes to having some vision and leadership.
What we’re talking about here is Bob Martino’s $150 million investment in a project called The Gateway, which is currently (kind of) under construction on the last big (110 acres) undeveloped piece of property in the city of East Ridge.
The sticking point in moving forward is the construction of a road on the southside of the project which would connect Ringgold Road, the city’s commercial corridor, to Martino’s project. From the perspective of the developer, he’s probably saying “It’s impossible to move forward with building commercial space until I can get me a road in here.”
From the city’s perspective, those inside City Hall are probably saying “I can’t invest in a road until I see more being built out there than a 5,000-seat stadium.”
In last week’s City Council meeting, Mayor Brian Williams trotted out some artist’s rendering (not seen by the public) of the latest version of what a road might look like. According to some on the council, it was the first time they had seen anything. Williams said the proposed project along with the drawings were submitted to the city some three weeks prior. He held onto it because there was no cost estimate in the package. Apparently, there was a cost estimate with this package and now the mayor wants to put it on the agenda for the next meeting. He also added that the city would have to acquire rights-of-way along the street.
Well, the street is Mack Smith. The proposed road would be a divided four-lane road going straight toward the famed Budgetel then making a jog to the northwest into Martino’s property.
Surely, it must have been in the forefront of the minds of East Ridge’s elected officials and top staff that a road of some type was essential for this project to move forward. Let me refer the reader to the Jordan Crossing development. The developers in that project flatly stated that they could not land any contracts with businesses to come into the nascent development until a road was built.
By George, the city got on that one pronto and convinced the county and the state that a new Exit 1 configuration would have to be built leading straight into Camp Jordan Parkway, a city street that would go right down the middle of the development. That stuff got done and the Bass Pro Shop welcomed new neighbors, including TopGolf, Chik-fil-A, Starbucks, Jonathan’s, a hotel, and soon to be a medical facility.
That road cost us a chunk of change, perhaps in the neighborhood of $10 million. And in return, businesses within the Jordan Crossing development boosted budgetary revenues to the city by maybe 10 to 15 percent.
So why shouldn’t Martino get treated the same way? He’s thrown down $20 million of his own money (Jordan Crossing developers used $4 million that the city gave them) to build up 60 acres, address flooding with storm drainage, and built a first-of-its-kind soccer stadium.
Initial costs for the Martino road is $2 million. That might be a low-ball number. Nevertheless, it ain’t the $10 million we spent on the other side of Interstate-75.
Why are city leaders balking? They certainly have slow-walked any proposals for road building.
I know Mayor Williams has a risk-averse style (see his views on BR development agreements). I can understand that given that his administration was responsible for raising property taxes by 26 percent last year. He and the council can’t ponder a second tax increase with all this economic development happening in the city. And that is what might happen if the city builds a road to a Martino project that doesn’t deliver.
Are there any indications that Martino won’t or can’t deliver on what he has proposed? Someone, or maybe several people, inside City Hall has trust issues with Bob Martino. This reporter was directed to a May 2021 story that was reported in the Utah media that Martino had brought suit against the City of Hideout over the issue of development agreements on some big honking project.
Let’s go back to when Martino joined city leaders in a press conference in May of 2019 in front of City Hall announcing the project. All smiles and back slapping. The future of our city was fixin’ to take off, baby! If you thought Bass Pro and all that development down there was something, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Happy Days Are Here Again!
Maybe the mistrust is bred by those inside City Hall who don’t have the confidence in their own ability to make informed decisions about deals. Maybe they don’t have the intellectual ability to comprehend this stuff.
Maybe the council, who ideally are the policy makers, are being fed half-truths about the magnitude of this project and what it may or may not mean to the city. Whatever happened to the concept of dealing with people in good faith? There was plenty of that good faith going around when ground was broken in July 2019 at the site with Governor Bill Lee front and center.
Maybe it’s time to hit the reset button, if there is such a thing. Martino has started the project and delivered a stadium with infrastructure improvements to the area. The city has installed a $350,000 sidewalk with some landscaping on the northern entrance to the property off Spring Creek Road.
Let’s move forward with a road into the project on the south end. Let’s do it with deliberateness and our eyes wide open … in good faith, if you will. If Martino doesn’t deliver I’m confident that there is another developer who will come in right behind him and build the ever-loving crap out of the site.
The line out of the movie, “build it and they will come” may be true. But they ain’t coming if they can’t get there.