By Mike Steely
Speaking from the rooftop parking area overlooking the office building of the former Baptist Hospital Friday afternoon, Governor Bill Haslam gave an idea of the state’s contribution and support of the move of Regal Cinema’s national headquarters from Halls to the site just across the Henley Street Bridge. The state will contribute about $1.5 million to the project.
“The company could be in a lot of places,” Haslam said, adding, “This is a really big deal.”
After several months of negotiation between the city, county, state and Regal, Friday’s announcement was a celebration of the agreement. The public began to hear of the plans last week when Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett asked Financial Director Chris Caldwell to add to the County Commission’s agenda a $1.5 million pledge. While the Mayor did not announce then what the money would be designated for, it was common knowledge that it would go to help keep Regal’s operation in Knox County. The commission’s agenda today specifies “promote of economic development of the South Knox Waterfront,” and was released prior to the governor’s announcement.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who hosted Friday’s announcement, told The Focus that the city may allocate $9 million to buy back the medical office building and part of the parking garage. The amount would include a partial renovation of the site and bring Regal’s 325 employees to the facility, potentially increasing the employees there to 400.
Amy Miles, Regal’s Chief Operating Officer, said the move from Halls will allow the corporation to “keep the great people we have.”
Both the city and county pledges face approval by council and commission, but that appears to be only a formality. The office building was originally sold, along with the former Baptist Hospital, to what is now Southern Development Associates, which was part of the state-city-county and Regal agreement.
Rogero said the city’s part in the funding won’t be on Tuesday’s agenda but she may address it in her remarks then.
“I can’t wait to look out my office window and see the Regal name on the building,” Rogero said, adding, “and then the employees can walk across the bridge to have lunch downtown.” She said that Regal will pay an “in lieu” of taxes during the 10 year agreement based on the value of the property as if it were taxes, but since the city will own the building there will be no direct tax. The lease agreement is for $300,000 per year. Regal has agreed to also pay for finalizing the renovations estimated at $4 to $5 million. Regal will also pay $180 per year each for 100 parking spaces in the garage. Of the 450 parking spaces to be owned by the city, 350 will be available for public parking.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett recognized the various parties that succeeded in coming to an agreement.
Randy Boyd, the state’s Economic and Community Development Commissioner, said that of the 124 announcements the state has made this year, the Regal agreement was special for him as a native of South Knoxville. He said he was born at the former Baptist Hospital.
Regal Entertainment Group, founded by Knoxville native Mike Campbell, is the nation’s largest theatre circuit in the United States. It operates over 7,357 screens in 571 theatres in 42 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa and Guam. The firm, from its Knox County headquarters, develops, acquires and operates multi-screen theatres primarily in mid-sized cities and suburban areas.
If, at the end of 10 years, Regal doesn’t buy the building the city would continue to own it and the property is estimated, at that time, to be worth $16 million.