Project Victor revealed: Academy Sports to build state’s largest distribution center in Cookeville

COOKEVILLE – After months of negotiations and weeks of speculation, Project Victor, an economic development prospect with 700 new jobs and a $100 million investment, was finally revealed in Putnam County today at Cookeville’s Dogwood Park. Academy Sports + Outdoors, a sports, outdoors and lifestyle brand, will build a new 1.6 million square foot distribution center in town, marking one of the biggest economic development announcements in Upper Cumberland history.

Spanning 257.38 total acres, the center will be the largest distribution facility in Tennessee under one roof. Construction is expected to begin later this month, and company officials say they plan to be operational in early 2016. Hiring will begin in late 2015. It will be the company’s third distribution center nationwide. Academy Sports has nine stores in Tennessee with a 10th store planned to open in Memphis this fall.

Leaders had kept Project Victor tightly under wraps as discussions ensued over the last 10-11 months – especially in the final weeks as the deal was finalized. But just moments before the official announcement was set to begin, three large blue banners bearing the Academy Sports logo set the stage at the park’s performance pavilion. The excitement only continued from there.

“This is a big deal for Putnam County, a big deal for Cookeville, Tenn., but this is an even bigger deal for Academy Sports + Outdoors,” company CEO Rodney Faldyn said. “This allows us to continue to grow. This distribution center is extremely important as we continue to grow in the South, the Southeast, and as we continue to expand into the Midwest. This really allows us to launch our footprint outward. We couldn’t be happier with our selection.”

‘Many moving parts’

Much of the secrecy surrounding Project Victor – while par for the course on most prospective economic development projects – was attributed to the large number of moving parts. And many of those moving parts joined in on the celebration Friday. Officials with the Tennessee Valley Authority, Tennessee Department of Transportation and Tennessee Economic and Community Development all addressed the crowd. Locally, Cookeville Mayor Matt Swallows and County Executive Kim Blaylock hinted that Academy Sports’ announcement was only the beginning for Putnam, particularly as another potential prospect, Project Uno, starts to make its rounds in the press. While Academy’s footprint was too large for the newly developed Highlands Business Park, their presence just might be “the thing that tips us over the edge,” Blaylock said.

“It’s a game changer for the entire area, not just the city,” Swallows added. “And it’s just the start. In the next five years, we’re going to have trouble recognizing Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland. We’re just getting started.”

Academy Sports expects to turn dirt at the site, south of Old Stewart Road along Interstate 40 on the western side of Cookeville, in the next few weeks. While the company had “a number of options” for its new facility, Faldyn said they were attracted to Tennessee because of its “centralized location, pro business nature (and) quality workforce.” Tennessee Tech University, others said, was another major asset. ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty said Academy Sports will be able to draw its top talent.

“We have a great workforce here,” he said.

Additionally, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said four new road projects will be part of the development at a cost of $28 million. Academy’s project site will be served by the fifth interchange, an interstate connector project along Interstate 40 west of South Willow Avenue. Schroer said Academy’s announcement speeds up the project’s timeline, but his department was able to respond quickly to their proposal because of prior preparations by the city and county. Schroer told the UCBJ that a contract would be let on the fifth interchange in either October or November and work should start this winter. The interchange will be online before Academy’s building is operational in 2016.

“Our commitment is to make sure we stay in front of the development, which we’ll do,” Schroer said. “We were able to act quickly on this, but only because we were already in the door; we have been working closely with the city for a long time.

“The vision of the local people made this happen, without question.”

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