By ZACH HARMUTH
The Board of Mayor and Alderman will decide in two weeks at its January voting meeting whether or not to take over ownership of the historic Rippavilla plantation, after a due diligence report that recommended taking it over was presented Tuesday night.
As per the report, completed by a mayorally-appointed due diligence panel, the historic 98.44 acre property, set south of Main Street and Saturn Parkway across from General Motors, would be conveyed to the city, which would continue operation of it as a museum and park, and assume responsibility for maintenance.
“This recommendation is the result of several months and many hours of work by the panel,” David St. Charles, chair of the panel, said. The process began in June, when BOMA tasked Mayor Rick Graham with creating the due diligence panel after the Rippavilla board broached the idea of conveyance to the city to ensure preservation. Panel members included Aldermen Jonathan Duda, Susan Zemek and Matt Fitterer, as well as Rippavilla board members.
Its report also recommends that a non-profit named Friends of Rippavilla be set up to help defray costs.
“The non-profit would exist to support the city and leverage its non-profit status with donations, grants, fundraising events and other support activities,” the report said.
The plantation has 12 employees and yearly operating expenses of $275,084, which is less than its annual income: $281,247 from tours and an annual $100,000 donation from General Motors.
However that annuity, started in 2007, ended with 2016. The total worth of the property is estimated at $2.1 million.
The report says that the potential value outweighs the challenges of funding, after the GM annuity runs out.
“The value of the land and buildings create instant useable assets for the city while the current financial situation … creates a challenge,” it reads. “In weighing the two … The financial issues are curable in the short term and the value generated for the city is significant.”
Duda, who fully supports the recommendation, points out the benefit and importance of preserving historical markers and space, while creating parkland at the same time.
“We are fortunate to have several culturally and historically significant resources like Rippavilla, but they are generally underutilized when compared to other cities in the region such as Franklin and Columbia,” he said. “Up until now, the city hasn’t really participated in promoting these assets to our own residents, or as sites to promote tourism. With the new Hotel Occupancy Tax that was implemented this year, we now have a dedicated source of funding to support Rippavilla and tourism initiatives.”
He said the conveyance instantly creates nearly 100 acres of park and green space that would cost upwards of $3 million if the city wanted to buy land and develop it from scratch.
Other stipulations recommended in the report are that no public roads or athletic fields can be built on the property, and it cannot be subdivided.
The report also says that the conveyance process could be complete, barring any unforeseen delays, by March.
The current process began in June, when the Rippavilla Board of Directors expressed a desire to donate the property to the city with the intention of it being maintained as a historic site and park atmosphere rather than being developed, according to City Administrator Victor Lay.
Rippavilla Plantation was built by Nathaniel Cheairs in the mid-1800s and is located off of U.S. Highway 31 at the southern end of Spring Hill.
Rippavilla is also a famous Civil War site, having served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate generals during the war.
The historic plantation is now the site of various events and functions, including Civil War reenactments and festivals..