PHOTO: Concept art by Mike Hathaway of 906 Studios shows the planned design of the Tennessee Children’s Home redevelopment project. / Courtesy photo
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Spring Hill residents and leaders have long called for a downtown district to call their own, much like in the vein of downtown Columbia and Franklin.
While that vision is closer now than it’s ever been, with a project currently making its way through City Hall that would transform the Tennessee Children’s Home on Main Street into over 100 acres of bustling downtown development, the president of the Tennessee Children’s Home, Brian King, said that for the city to see a downtown district on that site, it’s essentially now or never.
“If something happened and we had to stay on this property, we don’t have a lot of time to negotiate another contract with anybody, so if this deal falls through, then the chances of the city ever having a downtown here go away,” King said. “This is our third contract we’ve had on this property, and every time we think we’re going ahead, it’s fallen apart.”
King explained that the current buildings at the campus have long “outlived their usefulness,” and that rebuilding the current site to an adequate level would be nearly as costly as building an entirely new campus – except in the former case, the Children’s Home wouldn’t have the funds it would get from selling the land to put towards a new campus.
The Children’s Home would also sell a significant portion of the property regardless of if the current project moves forward, meaning one way or another, residential development would likely be constructed on at least some portions of the site.
“We’re going to have to replace all these buildings if we don’t move, and we’re selling all the property behind here anyway,” King said. “So the bottom line is, do you want all this development behind here with us sitting here, or would you like all this development back here with the downtown, with commercial? To me, it makes a whole lot of sense to have a downtown right here; a place [where] people can mingle and walk, and not have to go to Franklin to do it.”
The Children’s Home had been approached multiple times in the past with offers to purchase parcels of the property. King explained the reason the Children’s Home continually declined these offers was that they believed a unified development would better serve the residents of Spring Hill.
King also said the downtown project could see the preservation of historic Ferguson Hall, which sits on the Children’s Home campus, be more adequately funded.
“We are here to preserve children and families – not buildings,” King said. “People don’t give us money to preserve the buildings. We’ve had a few donations specifically to say ‘put this towards Ferguson Hall,’ and we have, but that’s few and far between. Ferguson Hall is no longer an asset, it’s more like an albatross to us.”
The proposed site for the new Children’s Home Campus is on the northwest corner of Beechcroft Road and Dr Robertson Road in west Spring Hill, and spans over an area of roughly 86 acres. Beyond the more modern buildings, whereas the classrooms and dorms of the current site are decades old at this point, King said the new campus would also provide multiple safety benefits.
Currently, the Children’s Home campus has shared rooms and bedrooms, which, when caring for troubled youth, has sometimes led to bullying. King said the new campus would feature individual rooms and bedrooms, creating a much safer environment for kids staying at the home. King also said the new campus would help prevent runaways, as room windows at the new campus won’t open.
While details of the sale have not been made public yet, King did say the cost of moving to a new campus would exceed the money that they would receive from the sale of the Main Street property by several million dollars.
To help make up the difference, the Children’s Home will be launching a capital campaign within the next few months to further help raise funds, with opportunities for donors to name group homes in a person’s honor. The Children’s Home will also be hosting a benefit dinner on Thursday, September 19 – three days after the city is set to either approve or deny the downtown project’s preliminary plan.
That benefit dinner will be held at Concord Road Church of Christ in Brentwood at 6:30 p.m., September 19. Tickets are $25, with RSVP information available online by clicking here.
“If this doesn’t pass, then this downtown here will go away,” King said. “This will go away because unless somebody walks in and gives us a deal with no contingencies and a lot of money where we can start building quickly, we’re going to start rebuilding on this campus, and then the downtown for here goes away. [That’s] because I doubt we’ll get enough money once we start rebuilding new group homes to where we can afford to move.”
“People are going to move here whether we sell this property or not, and to me, this development that’s coming here is unique,” King said. “It’s going to be a walkable, livable, workable, shopable community that will keep people off the roads if they don’t want to get on the road. The shops that are going to be here are going to be unique, they’re going to be smaller, mom and pop-type shops. Whether the Children’s Home was involved or not, I would like to see Spring Hill have a downtown.”