One of the busiest intersections in Oak Ridge is prime real estate for the site of a future $30 million Kroger Marketplace. Developers have already purchased several businesses and homes along the intersection of Illinois Avenue and the Oak Ridge Turnpike for the future construction site.
The last property owners to decide whether or not to sell have been on the Oak Ridge Turnpike since 1956. That is when the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church (ORUUC) was founded and has been a mainstay in the community ever since.
"I have been a member here for the last 40 years," said Jo Ann Garrett. "We were approached this summer by developers who offered to buy our property and our building. They will tear this down and make it a parking lot."
Sunday the church members made a difficult decision on whether to make a big move.
"There are memories in every corner for me in this church," said Garrett. "We have also done a lot of expansions and renovations through the years. This part of the church [the sanctuary] was built in the late 1990s. All of this [overhead beams] is supposed to evoke the feeling of trees, like you're in a forest."
Taking the deal means the church would have to find new land, design a new church, and also relocate the dead from its memorial garden.
"Many of our past members or their relatives are interred here, or at least their ashes are. Each of their names are listed on these copper plaques," said Garrett.
Ultimately, the church congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of accepting the developer's offer to purchase the property. Garrett said the choice came down to being a neighbor of Kroger or finding new space.
"The Kroger was coming here one way or the other. We were presented with two site plans. One was with us if we did not sell and the other was if we did sell. The use of the church and its grounds would be constrained if we stayed. There would virtually be no chance to expand in the future and I think that was the deciding factor," said Garrett. "There is a feeling of sadness, really. I know there will be some tears when we do go. There are memories in every corner of this church for me. But I am also excited about what we can build in the future."
Garrett says independent analysts assured the congregation that the amount offered would be enough for the church to purchase a new site and construct a facility of equal or greater value. Wherever the bricks and mortar of the church are located, Garrett said the spirit of the congregation will remain the same.
"That's why I'm here because the church reaches out into the community. We will do that wherever we are. I see it as an opportunity and a blessing," said Garrett. "The next step is to close on the sale. Then we will find land and design a church. You cannot design it until you know the lay of the land."
Oak Ridge leaders say the Kroger Marketplace development could open sometime in 2014. It is expected to employ around 250 people.