Council ranks Gulch developer & Murfreesboro group as top 2 proposals for historic church

Scott Broden, The Daily News Journal, November 3, 2017

A rendering from Murfreesboro Investment Group

The Murfreesboro City Council ranked Nashville’s Gulch developer and Murfreesboro Investment Group as top applicants of four to redevelop downtown’s historic former First United Methodist Church.

“It’s pretty clear the top one and top two,” Mayor Shane McFarland said.

The council agreed to buy the church property from Franklin Synergy Bank January 2016, and seeks to resell the old church and adjacent city parking lot to a developer promising to preserve a sanctuary and bell tower that date back to 1888.

The church is a block northeast of the Civil War-era Rutherford County Courthouse in the center of the Square.

The city officials hope to choose a developer before 2018 for a mixed-use of commercial and residential options.

One idea calls for more courtyard open spaces.

The top two ranked are Gulch developer Bill Barkley of Franklin with City Development Company, and a Murfreesboro Investment Group that includes Nick Patel, Bob Patel and Mike Chaudhary.

Barkley’s estimated $50 million plan includes an underground parking garage with 180 spaces and offers a mix of brownstone townhouses for sale and flats for rent.  Barkley’s project would have one five-story building and a three-story building blending with a four-story buildings.  The buildings would include shops and restaurants along College and Church streets.

Courtyard areas with outdoor dining that connect to the surrounding neighborhoods and allow pedestrians to cut through the 2.4 acre property are also a part of Barkley’s proposal.

Murfreesboro Investment Group proposes to build a 504-space parking garage and an 80-room boutique hotel on upper levels facing East College Street.  The North Church and East College street level fronts would be for restaurants and shops while the upper floors would be for offices.

The group’s $40 million plan includes 55 condominiums for sale.

City Council members split on how they rank

Barkley’s proposal attained top rankings from Vice Mayor Madelyn Scales Harris, Rick LaLance and Eddie Smotherman.  Harris and Smotherman ranked the Murfreesboro Investment Group second.  LaLance chose Southern Group LLC, a company that includes John Elliot, who resides in the Buchanan community southeast of Murfreesboro.

The mayor and Councilmen Kirt Wade and Bill Shacklett ranked the Murfreesboro Investment Group as the best proposal. McFarland, Wade and Shacklett ranked Barkley as the second best.

City officials said the two other competing applicants, Southern Group and WRS Real Estate Investments, could still be considered if they modify their plans with more competitive options.  WRS includes Scott Smith, a developer who was born and raised in Murfreesboro and is the son of local developer Tommy Smith.

Mayor McFarland directed City Attorney Craig Tindall to explore tax increment financing incentives that use property taxes from net gain after improvement to help pay for redevelopment.

Barkley seeks to use tax increment financing to help pay for redevelopment, have the city donate the existing ground-level parking lot and negotiate a price for the current church/bank property.

The Murfreesboro Investment Group has requested the land, tax increment financing that can be used to pay for the parking garage and other assistance.

The group estimates that the completed development would generate $2.3 million in annual tax revenues with the state getting nearly $1.1 million, Rutherford County collecting $753,253 and the city making $517,509.

Reach Scott Broden at 615-278-5158 and sbroden@dnj.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBroden.

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