Two proposals rise to the top for historic church redevelopment

Craig Meyers, The Murfreesboro Post, November 14, 2017

The city bought the property at College and Church Streets in 2016 for $1.55 million.

Murfreesboro City Council members have selected two development groups for further negotiations over converting the former First United Methodist Church property into a downtown entertainment, residential and retail destination.

Four companies made presentations to the council Oct. 26 on redevelopment of the city-owned Franklin Synergy property at Church and College streets. In recommendations to City Manager Rob Lyons on Thursday, council members reached a consensus on continuing to work with the following two:

  • City Development Co. of Nashville, led by developer Bill Barkley, which presented plans for a pedestrian-oriented mix of retail, residential and entertainment/dining uses with “linkages” through the property in the form of courtyards and other open spaces. Retail and restaurant spaces would be at street level, with three- to four-story residential and office space above. Their project would feature underground parking for 165 vehicles, but would rely on nearby lots for after-hours parking.

  • Murfreesboro Investment Group, headed by businessmen Bob Patel and Mike Chaudhary, which also proposed a mixed retail-office-residential plan, but with an 80-room hotel on the upper levels. Most of the upper levels along North Church Street would be office space in conjunction with the new Rutherford County Judicial Center. Parking would be provided for 504 vehicles in a parking garage, under their proposal.

The 5,300-square-foot former church and bell tower would be preserved in both proposed developments — which was a requirement of the city. City Development wants to make it an event venue, while Murfreesboro Investment representatives said they may turn it into a restaurant.

Lyons and city staff will now work on clarifying the council’s vision for the property and developing a proposed Tax Increment Financing plan. A TIF commits anticipated new tax revenue from a defined area to subsidize or finance a public improvement project.

The two top companies have different ideas for how to compensate the city for the 2.4-acre property purchased in 2016 for $1.55 million.

The City Development group said it would negotiate a purchase price, while Murfreesboro Investment has asked for the property to be donated in exchange for the economic and tax benefits the project would generate.

“I don’t think we should give it away under any circumstances,” said Councilman Eddie Smotherman. “They presented some good ideas, they thought outside the box, and at this point we need to say what it is about those ideas we like.”

Smotherman said neither proposal has the right number of parking spaces in his opinion, with City Development proposing too few and Murfreesboro Investment too many.

“I think that somewhere kind of in the middle is what you’ll need, roughly 320 to 340. We’re looking at something that will change our downtown area for the next 50 years. This is a very important decision we’re making . . . something that makes it a destination point for all of Murfreesboro,” Smotherman said.

Farmer Lake donation

Also on Thursday, the council voted unanimously to accept the donation of Farmer Lake to the city. The waterway is a wide portion of the West Fork of Stones River at New Salem Highway and Warrior Drive that was created by damming.

Owner Mark Pirtle made the donation in connection with an apartment project. The city could eventually make the 13-acre lake more accessible for fishing and non-motorized boating, and connect it to the greenway system, officials said.

In other action, the council unanimously:

  • Approved a utility contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation designed to keep the much-needed widening of New Salem Road moving along smoothly once the project begins next year.

The measure commits $164,280 to reimburse TDOT for work related to Phase 1 of the widening of state Highway 99, locally known as New Salem Road, to five lanes between Cason Lane and I-24.

In July 2005, TDOT announced it would widen New Salem Road from Old Fort Parkway (Highway 96) to Cason Lane and later determined the project would be split in two phases.

Phase I between I-24 and Cason Lane is expected to go out for bids in February. Utility work for that portion involves extension of a new sanitary sewer main from the World Outreach Church property, across New Salem through the River Rock Baptist Church property to a sewer pump station at the end of Pacific Place.

Phase 2 between I-24 and Old Fort Parkway (Highway 96) is expected to go out for bids later in 2018. Phase II utility work includes an extensive amount of 16-inch water main replacement due to conflicts with proposed storm drainage lines.

The Phase I expenditure will come from $1.5 million the city has budgeted in its Working Capital Reserves fund for three years from 2017-2020.

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