City requests new proposals for historic First Methodist building

Sam Stockard, Murfreesboro Post, March 1, 2017

The Murfreesboro City Council is going back to the market for proposals on redeveloping the Synergy Bank property it purchased in 2016 for $1.55 million at East Vine and North Maple streets.

An initial request for proposals in January brought in only one vendor, as well as feedback from other interested firms who didn’t feel they had enough time to respond, according to a letter from City Manager Rob Lyons.

As a result, a pre-proposal meeting is set for Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the City Hall council chambers for questions and feedback on another request for proposal to be made.  The call for proposals is to run through April 3, officials say.

Lyons declined to release the sole bid because the RFP process is being reopened, even though some City Council have reviewed the document.

“The city is looking for an opportunity to transform this property and impact our historic downtown.  We believe there is tremendous potential for a redevelopment of the property and look forward to reviewing the proposals that come forward,” Lyons said.

As part of the public-private endeavor, City Council members want to preserve a bell tower and sanctuary that was once part of the old First Methodist Church building. And for the most part they want a developer to come up with a unique plan mixing retail, parking garage and residential uses.

City Councilman Eddie Smotherman envisions the sanctuary, which is vacant and in poor condition, being transformed into an auditorium, theater or archive to complement development of the entire block, about half of which is used for public parking.

In addition, Smotherman hopes for some green space being incorporated into the plan with retail on the lower level of a new building, parking on the

Courtesy of Cat Murphy/The Murfreesboro Post

second and condominiums on two or three more levels.  The RFP notes there are no height restrictions for redevelopment, considering the six-story county judicial building is being constructed on adjacent property.

“It’s gonna have to be a developer who’s kind of creative and looks at the whole project as something that fits with the downtown area but obviously does stimulate the head count and the retail growth in the area where we’re making the investment in that part of town,” Smotherman said.

Councilman Rick LaLance has a slightly different vision for the property, though he doesn’t dislike the mixed-use proposal.

“I was putting a little more weight behind trying to get a corporate location site versus just multi-family, garage, mixed use.  I think mixed use is a good use for it of some sort,” LaLance said.  “But I’d like to see more jobs coming downtown, which I think then the rest of the stuff sort of follows.”

In fact, LaLance said he’s not sure a corporate site isn’t “part of the equation,” but he hopes some emphasis can be put on attracting a job creator.

The city will consider providing incentives to a private developer based on performance and completion of the project, including the price of the site, tax increment financing or participating in infrastructure improvements and other project enhancements.  Proposals are expected to reflect the current net value of a proposed incentive that may be required.

The City Council and possibly the County Commission would have to approve incentives prior to a commitment.  The anticipated timeline for approval is about six weeks and would include presentations to the City Council, Gateway Commission, community meetings and approval of the concept, transaction documents and final deal, and potentially County Commission approval.

Franklin Synergy plans to maintain a branch on the property but is moving its corporate headquarters to property along Medical Center Parkway.  The bank is leasing the property from Murfreesboro until a developer submits proposals to re-purpose the site.

City officials believe the plan meshes with Rutherford County’s $73 million judicial complex and parking project along Lytle Street.  They also want development to fit the city’s 2035 plan, as well as studies under way for the Highland Avenue corridor and the Bottoms land stretching along Southeast Broad Street on the other side of City Hall and the Fire and Rescue Department headquarters.

Ultimately, Smotherman believes the city will have to consider providing property owners with some zoning options so they can turn older, rundown homes into updated residences, for example, with more than one brownstone on a single lot.

“There’s people wanting to live in the downtown area because they want to take in all the downtown events, but they don’t want to have to get in their car and drive to them,” Smotherman said.

Drawing more residents to the downtown will play a crucial role in attracting more businesses whose owners want to make sure they have enough customers to thrive, he pointed out.

The Highland Avenue and Bottoms studies should help the council determine government’s role in providing infrastructure such as streets, bridges and crosswalks for future development, he said.

Another factor could be drawing a hotel that provides a year-long presence of customers, something that makes the downtown area a “destination point,” he said.

Downtown Murfreesboro has a strong historical aspect, Smotherman pointed out, but it “doesn’t have a whole lot of things that say it’s a destination point.” Making it a destination is part of city officials’ overall plan.

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