Development Accelerator

Opening of Veterans Parkway brings opportunities to Millington

By Bill Dries

The city of Millington didn’t have a city engineer until 2008 when it had to have one in order to have local control over the Veterans Parkway road construction project.

The Millington Industrial Board recently hosted a grand opening for Veterans Parkway in the city. The road  that has been in the works for years is seen as an important step to development in the city. 

(Photos:  Lance Murphey)

“I thought it was kind of my cross to bear since I was hired in 2008,” Millington City Engineer Darek Baskin said this week of the road.

Baskin was instrumental in getting the roadway to and through the December 2010 start of construction.

The five-lane road with three bridges, sidewalks and bicycle lanes took 16 years and four mayors to complete in all including planning and funding and one rejection of the project in general in the 1990s.

“Now the hard work begins,” said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to those gathered under a tent by the side of the road this week to mark the opening. “We’ve got to put this land to use.”

The formal opening of the road Tuesday, Nov. 13, was a hard date city leaders wanted and not just because it came the day after Veterans Day. They are courting two un-named prospects for development of land along the parkway.

“One is closer to committing than the other one,” said Millington Mayor Linda Carter. “Both of those types of industries utilize rail and air and road. … I think probably in the next six or eight months you’ll see a lot more mud in the streets.”

The $26 million parkway opens access to the commercial and industrial park. It improves access to the Millington Regional Jetport, which has an 8,000-foot-long, 200-foot-wide runway that is the third-longest in the state.

Millington city leaders officially opened Veterans Parkway this week.  

FedEx also has used the airport in recent years. The airport has to make a bid for the FedEx overflow work this year unlike past years and is competing with other air centers in the area.

Its access to rail is also being touted in presentations to industrial prospects with help from Canadian National Railway Co., said Charles Gulotta, president and CEO of the Millington Industrial Development Board and the Millington Chamber of Commerce.

With a start of development by the parkway, Gulotta hopes momentum will build and with it will come a push to the north.

“We have over 200 acres of land that doesn’t have any utility access,” he said. “That is going to be a challenge for Millington in the future to get money to develop the site north of Veterans Parkway.”

The state put up $21 million of the $26 million total cost. The remaining $5 million came from the city of Millington, which managed work on the project.

The formal opening of the parkway was a reflection of not only the length of the project but of the political changes in Millington over the course of the project.

Sitting near the front of the crowd was Terry Jones, the mayor-elect who takes office in January and who was mayor from 2005 to 2008. On the same row were former Mayors George Harvell and Richard Hodges.

Veterans Parkway began as an idea during Harvell’s tenure in the 1990s when the land became available from the U.S. Navy as Millington’s signature Naval Air Station and air facilities were changed to a naval support facility.

Hodges presided over the April 2011 groundbreaking that also included Harvell and Jones. He resigned in January after his indictment on corruption charges that are still pending. Carter was appointed mayor by the town’s Board of Aldermen and did not run in the August city elections.

The elected officials at the ceremony acknowledged Hodges. Baskin specifically cited Hodges’ role in securing the financing for Millington’s $5 million share of the project cost.

Economic development officials in Millington, Shelby County and with the administration of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam are focused on the work of getting site selection consultants and their clients to see the parkway and the property next to it. When those prospects come to see Gulotta, his office is on the parkway.

The road project has become a larger symbol as well of changing times and political hopes. It is the largest locally managed road project in the state.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, whose district includes Millington, said the road built to local plans is a key to economic recovery.

“I feel like now in Washington we are abandoning in a lot of respects our infrastructure,” Fincher said. “It’s a bottom-top approach, folks. … We see all of the bickering today with politics – Democrats and Republicans. I was thinking, Republicans only don’t drive on this road. Democrats only don’t drive on this road. We all drive on this road and if we start putting that forward, America will be on top again.”