Cumberland University president Paul Stumb said he received dozens of messages and calls following the meeting from people who expressed disappointment in the council’s decision not to donate to the project.
The group initially agreed to donate $850,000 to the university for a development that would feature about 70 units student housing and retail space, dubbed Cumberland Corner. However, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the Municipal Technical Advisory Service opined the move was not legal, despite city attorney Andy Wright’s assurance to the council it was.
Following that, Councilor Rob Cesternino sponsored the resolution to donate $850,000 to Cumberland University to buy the properties. If Cumberland had failed to finish construction of Cumberland Corner, estimated to cost $15 million-$20 million, within 48 months of the donation, it would have been required to return the donation to the city.
Many residents voiced concerns about the plans, mainly about the project’s benefit to the city, or the belief that taxpayer funds should not go toward the private institution and used on other ventures and issues.
In a roll call vote, Councilor Tick Bryan joined Cesternino in support of the donation, while councilors Joey Carmack and Chris Crowell flipped from their original “yes” votes to oppose the measure. Councilor Rick Bell abstained his vote because of his position as a history professor at Cumberland, and Councilor Fred Burton was absent from the meeting due to illness.
Since the meeting, the university has raised $685,100 of a $1.1 million goal to buy the 9 acres.
“I’ve never done a crowd funding campaign before, but I know you all know how to do it. If you’ll help us and contribute to this important initiative, we can make the Cumberland Corner a reality,” Stumb said on the campaign video.
Landowner Drew Boggs said he gave the university an extension on the land purchase following the council meeting.
“I love the university, and I know it’s best for the university and best for Lebanon,” said Boggs, who is a Cumberland alumnus.
Stumb said Boggs indicated before the council meeting he would renovate properties and potentially build duplexes on the properties after he has secured land for Cumberland Corner for several years.
He said he did not feel the residential development would be in the best interests of either entity.
“Through that meeting, it has fueled the fire for so many people to step up,” he said. “It has motivated people to step up and a lot of people have. If the city won’t support it, the people, alumni and supporters will.”
Stumb highlighted the university’s need to expand during the council meeting, noting increased enrollment has caused the need to upgrade campus facilities. He said the university added 14 full-time professors and about 75 adjunct professors to keep up with a 50-percent enrollment jump in the last two years.
The university has acquired several houses near the campus to accommodate students, and Cumberland Corner could help alleviate some issues with housing.
To donate, visit givecampus.com/schools/CumberlandUniversity/the-cumberland-corner-project.