The Northfield Workforce Development Center took one step closer Monday night to becoming one of the largest music rehearsal venues in the country after the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 6-3 to renegotiate a contract with Worldwide Stages, a Nashville-based entertainment group.
The city purchased Northfield - the former headquarters of a General Motors automotive brand - for $8.18 million in 2017, with plans to house the city's police and fire headquarters, library, City Hall and other city departments inside the facility.
Questions arose in early 2019 as to the state of the building, which at that point was around 30 years-old. City leaders eventually drafted a contract to sell Northfield for $9.2 million to Worldwide Stages - then known as Crescendo Entertainment.
Worldwide Stages envisioned transforming the facility into a music rehearsal venue, a facility where musicians could rehearse large-venue performances in a controlled environment.
That contract was executed on March 5, coincidently the same day that Tennessee saw its first reported COVID-19 case.
With standard building inspections and other routine procedures associated with large building purchases made more difficult due to the pandemic, the purchase contract was delayed multiple times before it was allowed to expire on Feb. 2 of this year.
Spring Hill leaders discuss committing to selling Northfield, reentering contract with Worldwide Stages
Monday night, city leaders were set to vote on a resolution that declared two things; that Northfield had "no further feasible use to the city," effectively denouncing the facility as being adequate to house the city's departments, and that the city would enter into a new contract with Worldwide Stages.
Mayor Rick Graham and Vice Mayor Amy Wurth have historically been against the sale of Northfield, arguing that the time and cost associated with constructing new buildings for the city's departments would be far too great for a city facing exponential growth.
"My vote tonight on this item has nothing to do with Worldwide Stages, what they're planning to do for Spring Hill is outstanding, but I'm looking at the bigger picture for Spring Hill," Graham said.
"We've lost two years now on this with that contract failing the first time, and we have no guarantee it's going to pass this time. I just question the cost of the next board finding headquarters for the police and all these other departments - it's going to cost five to ten times more money, a minimum of $20 million more."
Graham mentioned that the city of Brentwood's new police headquarters - a two-story, 55,000-square-foot facility - cost $29 million to construct.
Alderman Hazel Nieves argued in favor of entering into a new contract, arguing that the proposed music rehearsal venue could bring in significant tax revenue, create white-collar jobs, and bring opportunity to the city of which it hasn't seen before.
"The music industry has been one of the hardest hit industries during this COVID-19 situation, we cannot discount that," Nieves said.
"I have full confidence that this company is going to do what they need to do to purchase Northfield as they said. Here we have a company coming in that's bringing something that's very unique, very much so to put Spring Hill on the map."
Alderman Vincent Fuqua, who had previously been unsupportive of selling Northfield, said that he would give Worldwide Stages one final chance to execute the contract.
"I haven't been very supportive [of this project] because I think we had needs for [Northfield], we had two shovel-ready projects to go in immediately... I think that the use of the building could serve the community well," Fuqua said.
"I want to speak directly to this contractor today: I'm going to vote favorably for the sale this evening, but it's the last time. If it fails this go-around, the next move for me will be to move forward with the two project that we have ready to go in the facility; the library and the police department."
Sharing Graham's perspective, Wurth adamantly opposed entering into a new contract, and still vied for Northfield to house the city's various departments.
"Our city staff, police have waited at least 14 years [for us] to try to find them a home... these are the people that protect our citizens every day, they have no home," Wurth said.
"We have police at City Hall and we have them off of Tom Lunn Road in a facility that's not adequate. We had a solution two years ago. Those projects were ready to go, our police and library would have been there for almost a year now."
Ultimately, Wurth argued against selling Northfield as a means to get city police and fire adequate facilities in a reasonable time frame.
"Folks, it took us 14 years to find this solution," Wurth said. "I pray that this new board can find a solution that's not going to take three or four more boards to figure it out and not cost the taxpayers a tax increase to do that."
After listening to Wurth's comments, Fuqua waffled on his previous comments.
"I'm torn, I do feel like we're kind of kicking the can down the road with the police department and the library," Fuqua said. "We'll see what happens with me when we get to the voting."
Alderman John Canepari stood firm in supporting the sale of the building, and pointed to the condition of the facility as his main concern.
"Going back in history, we all voted upon approving a condition survey [for Northfield] where we were going to get an assessment of this 50-year-old building that the city bought kind of without a condition assessment," Canepari said. "They just said 'yea, that's a 50 year-old building, good, let's take it.'"
"That's not what happened," Wurth interjected.
"I still have the floor I think," Canepari responded.
Canepari argued that there were other options the city could pursue as far as housing its police, fire and other city departments. He said that the city could build a new police headquarters near City Hall, that the new library could be constructed in Kedron Square as the developer has offered to donate a sizable chunk of land, and that the city could lease properties to house its Public Works and IT departments.
Graham said that Canepari's suggestions were not "plans" as he called them, but "speculation."
"It'll be years, and then where are you going to get the money next board?" Graham asked. "Then probably the board after that one will not come up with enough money to build these departments, new construction is expensive! There ain't no way, you guys have no plan."
Ultimately, the board voted in favor of committing to sell the property and enter into a new contract with Worldwide Stages. Voting yes were Aldermen Nieves, Dan Allen, Jeff Graves, Canepari, Matt Fitterer and Kevin Gavigan, and voting no were Fuqua, Wurth and Graham.