PHOTO: The Abbey Leix Mansion at the O’More College of Design, which will be closing its Franklin campus in the fall of 2018 after a merger with Belmont University/ Photo by Brooke Wanser.
By BROOKE WANSER
In the wake of the recent announcement that O’More College of Art and Design will merge with Belmont University, moving operations to Nashville this fall, a stewardship committee has formed with the goal of preserving the historic O’More property.
“We want to come up with the highest and best use of that property,” committee member Calvin LeHew, who recently helped pay the balance of the Old, Old Jail for $900,000, said. “We want to preserve the beauty and integrity of it,” he continued. “We don’t want someone to go in there and put apartments and condos around there.”
In addition to LeHew, committee members include the Heritage Foundation’s former executive director Mary Pearce, Williamson Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Largen, businessman J. Roderick Heller, realtor Danny Anderson, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and preservationists Pam Lewis and Ernie Bacon.
In a meeting Friday, Feb. 23, several members of the unofficial committee met and discussed ideas for possible property uses.
Largen did not attend the Friday meeting, but he suggested the space could be used as an entrepreneurship center.
“You’re talking about a collaborative community of entrepreneurs who basically rent space in the facility and benefit from programming,” he said, like how to finance a project and attract investors.
But Largen is open to other suggestions.
“I want to see something that preserves the history and the legacy of Mrs. O’More and recognizes that campus plays a special role in Franklin moving forward,” he said.
Other ideas include using the space as a bed and breakfast, an idea former Carter’s Court and Factory at Franklin owner and developer LeHew thought would be an appropriate use of the space.
A museum or a space for events or nonprofits have also been floated, he said.
Heller, who is developing the unprecedented Harpeth Square project downtown, said the committee wants to send a message. “It’s very important for Franklin that this wonderful site be preserved for the community.”
After further goal-setting meetings, the committee plans to meet with Belmont executives to discuss the property’s future.
A few committee members have been directly involved with O’More in the past; Largen and Anderson previously served on the school’s board.
But perhaps LeHew has the most personal tie to the college.
While serving as the chair of the Franklin zoning commission and board of zoning appeals in 1970, LeHew said he was the tie-breaking vote to allow Eloise O’More, the founder of O’More College, to begin the school inside her West Main home.
In 1980, O’More moved the school to the Abbey Leix Mansion on South Margin Street, and the school was modeled off the Parisian institute where O’More had studied art.