Murray farm marketing endorsed

Monday, March 21, 2011

Steeped in the heritage of Tennessee Walking Horses, the old Murray Horse farm that Lewisburg bought three years ago was the starting gate for a City Hall discussion Tuesday when the pasture and avenues to and from town were seen as economic development tools for the benefit of residents and the region.

"I'd like to see us market that property to get it back on the tax rolls," Planning Commission Chairman Jim Bingham said as he took the reins for the planners' imaginary ride around town when they were reminded of hometown opportunities ripe for development.

They included:

* A housing complex on the farm across Rock Creek from the city park;

* Relocation of the Walking Horse Museum to Lewisburg;

* A new East Church Street bridge from Ellington Parkway to the farm;

* Recognition of the city's original water source, a spring that still gushes cold water;

* The widening of Mooresville Highway, State Route 373, between I-65 and Lewisburg;

* Heritage tourism, a widely recognized economic engine that brings money to town; and,

* New sidewalks through town, including those to be built by the Tennessee Department of Transportation parallel to East Commerce Street - from the widening project of the bypass - toward the Post Office.

Planning commissioners have no authority to make final decisions, except on subdivision site plans and such that lead to construction permits, Bingham said, but the planners can develop ideas with the Community Development Committee led by Edmund Roberts. Liaisons from the CDC and planning commissioners to the city council should foster the concepts for the community's economic development, Bingham said with general agreement from his panelists.

The Murray Horse Farm property has been seen by members of the county's 911 Board as a good place for a consolidated communications center, and some of the land was bought by the Water and Wastewater Department for expansion of the sewage treatment plant.

"That was the last big section of land in the city that's undeveloped," former Mayor Bob Phillips said Wednesday, recalling the night then-Councilman Phil Sanders declined to vote, thereby forcing Phillips to break the 2-2 tie for purchase of the 48 acres for $525,000 from Roger Ritch, a now disgraced Shelbyville developer, and namesake for Ritch Building Supply on Rogers Road here.

"They could have charged us anything they wanted for it," Phillips said, "because the state was going to make us expand" the sewage treatment plant.

"If the city owns it," the former mayor said, "it can be what the city wants it to be."

Phillips endorsed Bingham's concept of a retirement village and associated service businesses for the residents.

So did Planning Commissioner Bill Marsh.

"It is badly needed in our community at the present time," Marsh said of senior citizen housing.

Marsh is chairman and president/CEO of First Commerce Bank, the Lewisburg-based financial institution that has a client interested in building senior housing near State Route 50 and Franklin Pike. That project became possible with relief from the state since a sewer moratorium is now less than absolute.

Noting that at least one apartment complex is "always full," Marsh advocated "controlled growth" and projects that serve a growing market.

Meanwhile, Phillips noted, "Jim [Bingham] has gone further" with a larger concept.

Steps have already been taken for a new bridge over the stream parallel to the bypass at East Church Street. That road, when taken straight up hill leads directly to the horse pasture and the traffic intersection of Church, the bypass and Finley Beech Road is just north of the headquarters for the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and exhibitors association headquarters for the 75-year-old registry of the breed.

"That started talk about development of Murray Farm," Bingham said.

"To people in Minnesota and Wisconsin," the planning commission chairman continued, "Lewisburg is north Florida."

Continued development of the city property could be seen as a continuation of brick houses owned by Ernest Henegar who recently won votes from city councilmen to extend his driveway for those rental units onto the horse farm for a one-way street that turns back to a public road.

Development of the pasture was endorsed by Councilman Robin Minor, a member of the planning commission, who said, "If it will bring in revenue."

Earthen berms separating proposed housing from the utility's expansion project could be built with "spoils" from construction projects such as the expansion and widening of Mooresville Highway.

"Let the wheels turn," Bingham said for planners' imagination on how to market the old Murray property.

Discussion that Tuesday included information community leaders obtained from informal conversations about the prospect of the Tennessee Walking Horse Museum leaving Lynchburg for some other location.

Subsequent interviews revealed that the museum's landlord wants the building cleared out, so the museum must move,

"I don't think anyone could have a problem with the museum being here," said Greg Lowe, the city's industrial development director and now former codes director who continues to serve planning commissioners until a successor is named.

Bingham agreed: "knowing how important the Murray farm had been to the Walking Horse industry."

Thursday, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said more.

"I think it would be a great place for it," Liggett said of the concept - a new building at Murray Farm where the museum could be re-established. "It would bring it back to where it came from."

Shelbyville is where the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is located, but Lewisburg is where the Breeders and Exhibitors Association was formed with the support of Jim Nance McCord, a former Lewisburg mayor, Tennessee governor and congressman.

"Murray Farm had some pretty big horse sales there," Liggett said. "It brought people to Marshall County. It's part of our heritage."

Heritage tourism is another aspect of Bingham's discussion, noting, "We need a way to bring in a tour bus... The tour bus operators need another stop."

Heritage tourism is usually associated with history buffs touring Civil War sites, but bus tours also go to casinos, music venues such as Branson, Mo., and Nashville. Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg is a frequent destination and so Bingham endorsed plans for redevelopment of the I-65 interchange with Mooresville Highway, its reconstruction to Lewisburg and sites in town such as the city's original source of water.

"It fits well as a route offered for visitors taking an agriculture tour," Lowe said.

The city spring is at the edge of the horse farm property just downstream from Rock Creek Park. It's in the hill down from Henegar's apartments near the Walnut grove of trees by the creek.

The local Joint Economic and Community Development Board of Directors has been discussing the development of a visitors' center at I-65 and Mooresville Highway, Bingham said as Edmund Roberts, a JECDB director, was attending the planners meeting in City Hall.

A wider variety of ides were discussed during the monthly commission meeting. Bingham noted there was no request for rezoning, site plan approval or development plats presented for review. As the lull in such tasks was apparent, the commissioners took the time to proceed with the discussion Bingham suggested.

It was, in effect, the continuation of the former mayor's observation three years ago when he cast the deciding vote to buy the old Murray Horse farm property.

"Old men dream dreams," Phillips said Wednesday morning over coffee, repeating his phrase from a March 2008 council meeting. "Young people need to dream dreams, too."