Lowe's gets ready

By Thomas Wilson

   If they come, you will build it.
   After months of speculation, a home improvement darling of construction firms and do-it-yourselfers has officially taken the first step in building a place for builders in Elizabethton.
   A property firm has submitted a preliminary site plan for the development of a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse store on over 16 acres at the end of Wallace Avenue in Elizabethton.
   City of Elizabethton's Director of Planning and Development, David Ornduff, said representatives with Jemsite Development of Jefferson, N.C., submitted a site plan for the Lowe's outlet to his office on Thursday.
   The plan calls for the construction of a 116,000 square-foot building on approximately 16.7 acres east of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter and north of West Elk Avenue.
   "This is the first step," Ornduff said of the site plan submission. "We are here to help them any way we can." The city's development staff including planning, public works and building officials will review the plan. The site plan will be placed on the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission's February agenda, Ornduff said.
   The property is located on the former North American Rayon Corp. campus behind the Elizabethton Post Office. Ornduff said the city was pursuing the installation of a traffic signal at the Wallace Avenue/West Elk Avenue intersection to control traffic flow along the development area.
   The development is also expected to include the construction of a four-lane access road connecting the future Wal-Mart Supercenter with Tony Fuller Drive near the existing Wal-Mart store. Wal-Mart's real estate division is shopping the soon-to-be-vacant store to developers.
   "That will be developed by the developer as part of this project," said Ornduff. He added that, if the Planning Commission grants approval, developers said grading work for the store could begin as early as March.
   The Lowe's retail proposal is the second major commercial development to hit Elizabethton in the past 12 months. A construction firm has also secured demolition and building permits from the city to raze the former NARC manufacturing building on West Elk Avenue to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
   Ornduff said a Brownfields Agreement was also being pursued by developers as part of the Lowe's development through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conversation. Wal-Mart obtained a Brownfields Agreement with TDEC for the Supercenter development last spring.
   The term "Brownfields" pertains to the expansion, redevelopment, or re-use of real property that may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous pollutant or contaminant. The Brownfields Program was created by the "Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act" and was signed into law Jan. 11, 2002. A 30-day public comment period allowing citizens to give input is required as part of a Brownfields Agreement.
   Based in Mooresville, N.C., Lowe's Companies, Inc., is the second largest home improvement retailer on the planet following Home Depot. With fiscal year 2002 sales exceeding $26 billion, Lowe's generates approximately nine million customers a week at more than 925 home improvement stores in 45 states, according to company information.
   The company reported $8 billion in revenue for the third fiscal quarter of 2003.
   Publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the 57-year-old company employs more than 130,000 people.
   The company launched an aggressive expansion plan a few years ago and targets opening a new store every three days, according to the company's Web site. The company has cut ribbons on warehouse "super stores" in Johnson City, Kingsport and Boone, N.C. in recent years.