Lebanon leaders, along with Wilson County representatives and state and local transportation officials, met Wednesday to put future city development plans into action.
In what Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead called “a great representation of the transit and the city,” the meeting is the first in a series of regular meetings to “find a way to increase our assets.”
City leaders have four proposals on the table they want to see come to fruition, and the major focus of Wednesday’s meeting centered on how the city could go about funding each project.
“You see the support of this idea,” Craighead said. “We need to look at this to see if we can make it happen. What we need is some guidance on where we go from here.”
The four projects include enabling a silent whistle system for trains within the city, the completion of the Hamilton Springs project to include a terminal for the Music City STARR, a rail spur that would end at the Wilson County Fairgrounds and the widely publicized construction of the Cumberland Center.
Craighead said the nearly $1 million silent whistle system, which would require upgrades to several road crossings, would add to the quality of life in Lebanon and increase the property value of homes along the tracks.
A rail spur into the Wilson County Fairgrounds would allow for alternate access to the Wilson County Fair, which attracts about 500,000 visitors each year. The cost of the rail spur could be reduced by utilizing a shuttle bus system and having to avoid the tracks cross Highway 70.
The Hamilton Springs project has already started in what is planned to be the city’s Entertainment District between Interstate 40 exits 238 and 239 with single-family homes already built. At the center of Hamilton Springs, plans are to build a terminal for the Music City STARR with office space, retail stores, restaurants and living units around. According to Mike Wrye with Lose and Associates, the request to build the terminal has been submitted.
“Someone can truly live, walk and play within walking distance of shopping and mass transit opportunities to Nashville,” Wrye said.
Also included in plans for Hamilton Springs is the Cumberland Center arena and convention center, originally planned to include a $40-million, 150,000-square-foot facility with two ice rinks, one of which was to be the home ice for a Central Hockey League franchise.
But plans for the Cumberland Center were put on hold in January when the Lebanon City Council could not garner the ¾-majority vote to send a resolution to the state Legislature asking for a zoning variance. When the Legislature’s deadline passed without the resolution’s inclusion, the city was forced to table the project for at least a year.
At Wednesday’s meeting, several present discussed submitting applications for grants to fund any or all of the proposed projects. Few, however, knew of any grant opportunities other than a Tiger grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Ultimately it was decided a master plan would be devised to allow for both the Regional Transit Authority to see whether the increased use would justify the cost and the submission of grant applications.
Liza Joffrion with the Tennessee Department of Transportation suggested developing a master plan but to look at each component separately. She also recommended a cost-benefit analysis to show the overall effectiveness.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto suggested putting together a group to come up with a rough draft of a design and meet again in a month to tweak it.
“As a county, we want to bring people here,” Hutto said.
“If we got it all at once, it would be fantastic, but not all together realistic,” he said. “We need to be working toward this goal.”
Representatives from several agencies committed to helping offset the cost of submitting grant applications, including the Nashville and Eastern Railroad Corp. and Wilson County Promotions, sponsor of the Wilson County Fair.
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