PHOTO: Hazel Nieves voices her concerns over the mixed-use development project to Jeffrey Heinze, a senior project manager for Catalyst Design Group. / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Residents of Spring Hill gathered in City Hall Friday afternoon to collectively voice their concerns over a new mixed-use development project that would see a hotel designed around the historic Ferguson Hall on Main Street. Along with the wealth of public comments, the city’s Historic Commission also outlined a list of recommendations for the project to adhere to that will ultimately be passed along to the city’s Planning Commission for further review.
Proposed to be built on the Tennessee Children’s Home property on the eastern corner of Main Street and Kedron Road, this mixed-use development project consists of 102 acres worth of retail, office, restaurant, hotel, residential and assisted-living space, and has a potential build-out period of ten or more years.
While many concerns over the project were voiced during the meeting, the most common one was the effects it may have on Ferguson Hall itself.
Built in 1853, the building served as the headquarters of Confederate General Earl Van Dorn, who would later be shot and killed on the property ten years later. The building has also been used in the past as a military academy, housing for the Tennessee Children’s Home and housing for presidents of the children’s home.
Jeffrey Heinze of Catalyst Design Group, the engineering firm attached to the project, said that the hotel that would be built adjacent to Ferguson Hall and would be four to five stories tall, be of a quality similar to the Marriott and Hilton family of hotels, and incorporate the design of the historic building without merely copying it.
“Architecturally, we’d pick up the rhythm of windows, pick up materials and everything else as far as integrating it historically,” Heinze said. “How it functions though is the main entrance, the day to day drop off and everything, is really on the backside on School Street, so when somebody is checking in, they’re coming to that address.”
Additionally, Heinze said the nature of a mixed-use development project leans itself well to creating more foot traffic to historic sites, incorporating them into people’s daily commutes and shopping experiences.
“The key to programming a mixed-use community is to have residents and people that are there night and day, 24/7, 365 days a year,” Heinz said. “Certainly residential meets that need, but the other thing [is the] hospitality component, because those folks are there the same way, and when they’re staying, they have the need to spend money on meals and such. The office component many times uses the hotel, so all of those things work together.”
“The ideal scenario is somebody that really wants to live close to work can live in the same development and walk to their office and go down and get a bite to eat in the evenings in the retail component,” Heinz said. “That is the long-term vision.”
Ben Schaedle of SR Residential Partners, a real estate investment group also attached to the project, made clear that Ferguson Hall itself would not actually become a hotel, that the hotel would simply be built around the building.
“The idea is to bring people back to these historic homes,” Schaedle said. “They can interact and see them where it doesn’t feel like it’s something old and beautiful [but] you don’t know you can go near it, now you can get close to it and enjoy it, and it becomes, really, an asset to the community. That’s the goal.”
Schaedle went on to note that the hotel would be on the back side of Ferguson Hall, relative to Main Street, and thus would not obscure the view of the building for most residents.
Long-time Spring Hill resident Licia Fitts spoke during the meeting, voicing her concerns of the effects on traffic on the already congested Main Street the development could cause, as well as some concerns about the preservation of the property.
“Unless there’s a way to integrate your retail and the hotels into what is old Spring Hill, you’re going to kill local businesses, and I know that’s not your intent, so please consider a larger picture than just the parcel,” Fitts said. “Please also recognize that the parcel’s not just the home, it’s the parcel as its entirety. You may not know, we used to get our water from that lake. There’s a lot of people that’ve been on that property, so there’s a lot more to it than, ‘here’s an old house, let’s encapsulate it.’”
Corrine Tomlinson, who is the board president for the Rippavilla Plantation, also had concerns about preserving the property’s history, which was also the site of a small skirmish during the Civil War.
“In case you didn’t know, around that lake area was a battlefield, and I hope you take that into consideration if that land is developed,” Tomlinson told the commission. “Let’s not find out after the fact and try to buy that land back for millions of dollars to preserve the battlefield, let’s think about that upfront. The home itself was built by a local builder, the materials that are in that home are from our own Maury County, the workers there are from Maury County, the slave labor that was there [is] connected to our local history, and we cannot afford to lose that.”
Tomlinson’s wife, Andy Tomlinson, was also present at the meeting. Andy was largely concerned with two cemeteries that are said to be on the property, cemeteries that have since had their gravestones removed, leaving their exact location a mystery.
“I actually lived at the [Children’s Home] in 1970 to 1974,” Andy said. “That place right there has a lot of history, a lot of history that can’t be replaced. The whole story will be gone – you can end that whole story. The two cemeteries that are there somewhere – what are you going to do to find them? Are you going to find them, or are you going to just say ‘oops, we didn’t see that’ and build on top of it? I’m telling you, it’s not just the orphan home property. I’m telling you it’s the whole city of Spring Hill.”
Andy also asked what would be done to preserve the history of the children’s home, a history he personally is a large part of. Schaedle said the project already has something in mind to preserve the home’s memory.
“We’ve committed to the Children’s Home to create a place in one of our parks that is a monument public park space to the history of their home and what was there,” Schaedle said. “The children that have children now can come back and say ‘this is where I grew up,’ and have a place to experience [that] along with the greater public of Spring Hill.”
Spring Hill resident Naomi Derryberry said that she would like to see the home given to the city by the developers, reminding the commission of scenarios in Franklin where the city had tried to repurchase historical properties at exuberant prices after selling them to developers.
“My concern is losing the history that all these people that are not here have lived through,” Derryberry said. “My wish is that you would take two acres and the house and give it back to the city and let us have it as a historical home so we wouldn’t lose at least that. We’ve got to hold on to some of this, you’ve seen it in Franklin, they’re trying to buy it back.”
Alderman candidate Dan Allen was also present at the meeting, and asked the developers to be very conscious of the properties aesthetics from a design standpoint.
“That needs to pop, it needs to do something to you, it needs to look a certain way, especially with this kind of development that’s being talked about,” Allen said. “Really concerned that it just becomes a value hotel, or just a very unexciting, normal, boring facade that doesn’t really take advantage of the strength of that kind of a layout, clearly there’s a lot of people very passionate about this property. If something does go forward, it needs to be treated with respect, and I think most people in the community kind of feel that this needs to be treated to a higher standard.”
Hazel Nieves, also a candidate for Alderman, called the property “the heart of Spring Hill,” and that it’s development should be treated with care and respect.
“This particular property holds very close to my heart, it is one of the most significant pieces of property we have left in old town Spring Hill, I’ve walked it up and down many times, and it’s just amazing,” Nieves said. “I know that that property’s going to get developed, I know that’s going to happen. We get a little bit emotional about it because this is the essence of where we are in Spring Hill right now. We have a future, we have a past, and we need to be careful in what we’re doing, we need to manage what we’re doing in a very thoughtful way.”
At the end of the meeting, the commission outlined a list of recommendations it would pass on to the city’s Planning Commission. The commission recommended that the developers should conduct an archaeological study to search for remains, the battlefield should be incorporated and preserved in the development, the national register status of the property should be preserved during development, the story of the property should be maintained, and that the development should blend into the existing development on Main Street.