The Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Alderman voted unaninmously Tuesday to begin the process of taking ownership of the historic Rippavilla Plantation.
When the details are all worked out, perhaps as soon as March, the historic home will be run as a park by the city, and also as a venue for events such as festivals and weddings. The board voted Tuesday to approve a letter of intent to take ownership of Rippavilla after a due diligence report recommended taking ownership earlier this month.
As per the report, 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 report, which was discussed at the BOMA work session two weeks ago, was prepared by a panel of private citizens and public officials appointed by the mayor. It included a financial plan.
“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.
“As a panel we did our best to consider the historic significance of Rippavilla to our area, but at the same time think of it from a pragmatic business approach,” St. Charles said. “The asset has considerable value, and the economic conditions are very curable in the short term. The city will gain efficiency through services and functions it already provides, and there is significant upside to revenue when you look at similar historic properties in middle Tennessee.”
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.
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.”
Alderman Amy Wurth, who said she was initially skeptical of the conveyance for financial reasons, said the report changed her mind. She supports the city’s action for two reasons.
“The first is I think that, through a concerted effort on events and just the overall management that we could increase the revenue stream, by charging a competitive rate,” she said. “The second thing is the hotel/motel tax. That money needs to be used for tourism, and can help cover Rippavilla. Not all of it obviously, the biggest part of the revenue needed for Rippavilla will be through events. Rippavilla just has so many outstanding opportunities and I think it is under utilized. I am excited to think we can do more out there.”
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.
“This is only the first step in what will be a detailed process,” Wurth said.
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.
Meanwhile, the decision by BOMA seems to be good for both the plantation property and the city, as well as the residents of Spring Hill.
“There was no question to the panel that if handled correctly, this was a win-win for Rippavilla and the city of Spring Hill,” St. Charles said.
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.