The Board of Mayor and Alderman ended the long process of taking ownership of the historic Rippavilla plantation Monday.
After a due diligence report recommended taking it over was presented in January, the city has been in the process of finalizing the transfer of the property.
It will be run as a park by the city, and other operations and uses will continue essentially as before.
As per the due diligence report, completed by a mayor-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. The resolution sets up the donation to the city, and ensures that Rippavilla will remain as a public park in perpetuity.
The report, which the resolution is modeled on, was headed by private citizens and public officials alike and came up with a financial plan that the city will follow.
“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 of 2016, 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.
The resolution will create 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 in 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.”
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 include: no public roads or athletic fields can be built on the property, and it cannot be subdivided.
The historic properties will be protected and maintained by the city and these include the historic Rippavilla mansion as well as Brown’s Stand, a historically accurate recreated log structure built in 2001 to aid in the site’s interpretation of early Tennessee history, the historic Cheairs Cemetery, the resting place for the members of the Cheairs family, the adjacent Cemetery for Unknown Souls into which remains have been reinterred from the Haynes Haven property, the Freedmen Bureaus School House, a historic school house relocated to the property, the Slave House, the last remaining of houses occupied by slaves on the property, the Sunken Road, a historic abandoned road thought to have been used by bisons, Native Americans and early settlers of this area, and the Carriage House, located adjacent to the Rippavilla Mansion and built in 1914.
The current process began in June 2016, 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 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.