Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

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May 28, 2014

Could VA turn over Knoxville campus ownership?

Knoxville — U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) believes that the transfer of full ownership of the Knoxville VA campus to another entity, such as the City of Knoxville, is not out of the realm of possibility. 

The VA fully shut down its inpatient services in Knoxville in 2009, in favor of spending millions on a new domiciliary in Des Moines. As the VA was preparing for this move, it followed its enhanced use lease process to try to reutilize the 163 acres and 39 buildings on the Knoxville campus. 

During the EUL process, the Journal-Express inquired to Barnett Devine, the VA employee who acted as a liaison between the VA and Knoxville throughout the process, regarding why the VA chose to look for a long-term leaseholder, instead of transferring full ownership. Devine, now retired, repeatedly indicated that the VA did not want to lose ownership of the property because it would adversely affect the department's funding. The VA wanted as many dollars as possible to care for America's veterans. 

According to a Fox News report, the VA carried over $1.449 billion in medical care funding from fiscal year 2010-11, $1.163 billion from 2011-12, $637 million from 2012-13 and $543 million from 2013-14. The VA expects to carry over $450 million from 2014-15. Fox goes on to report that the VA's budget is $54.6 billion, $10 billion more than it was four years ago. 

With this excess funding, as well as the struggles the preferred VA campus leaseholder, Knoxville Veterans Alliance, has encountered in finding tenants, Grassley was asked if there was a chance of the VA transferring ownership of the campus to an entity such as the City of Knoxville.

"That's always a possibility," Grassley said. He is concerned about how the VA is handling the funds it receives. Another investigation is underway into the department. Grassley was asked whether or not anything new would be learned through the investigation, and whether or not any action would be taken upon its completion. 

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Upon completion and reopening of Third Street, should the City of Knoxville wait to start the next stage of the Streetscape and Infrastructure project until 2015?

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