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Events Center to save schools money: Craighead

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News that moving Wilson Central, Lebanon High School and Mt. Juliet High School commencement ceremonies to the Nashville Municipal Auditorium in 2014 will cost the Wilson County School System more than $15,000 has inspired Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead to reintroduce plans for a multi-use event center that would serve this area.

Craighead has steadily worked to revise and condense proposed plans for the Cumberland Center and designated entertainment district off of Highway 231 in Lebanon – which lacked support from the Lebanon City Council when presented in 2011 – and is ready once again to push the idea forward, with significant adjustments.

The new plan would call for the city, county – and possibly school system – to enter into an interlocal agreement which would begin a “savings fund.”

Craighead explained that establishing an entertainment district, anchored by future plans for an event center, would attract more restaurants, retailers and business offices to Lebanon – therefore increasing sales tax revenues in an area that is mainly otherwise untapped.

“The zone now is a lot of raw land. There is the Boot Barn, the Logan’s Roadhouse within the development and then a trailer park, junkyard and a few older homes,” he said of the 257-acre proposed district, owned by 50 different proprietors. “This isn’t reinventing the wheel. This was done before when the Wilson County Development Board did the outlet mall. They basically took raw land that wasn’t generating anything and now it generates over $800,000 a year in sales tax.”

The agreement would ask the city to surrender their portions of the sales tax generated within the district to support the project, which is being developed by Vastland Realty. Funds would be saved to be used toward the construction of the Cumberland Center mixed-use facility.

The center, which could be used for concerts, trade shows, conventions, indoor sports, banquets, graduations, proms and festivals, would be constructed on 20 acres of donated property within the heart of the district. Craighead said based on the fact that the acre-and-a-half of land purchased by Logan’s Roadhouse sold for more than $800,000, he estimates the 20-acre raw land donation, given to the project by owner J.D. Eatherly, to be valued at $6-$8 million.

Construction of the center – an estimated $40 million – would be paid for through the fund set up in the local agreement, consisting of the city’s portion of sales tax revenue generated in the area, as well as the increase in city and county property tax brought in by the new development. The county could also elect to surrender its half of the 2.25 sales tax revenue – 82 percent of which goes to the county school system and 18 percent of which goes to Lebanon Special School District – to benefit the fund.

“We are looking for a partnership between the city, county and the schools. I am hoping the schools join in – if they do, they get a return immediately once the center is built,” Craighead said.

As a repayment, the public high schools would get to host their graduations and proms in the center, set up to hold 7,000 in floor seating, free of charge. The center would also be available for hockey games and practices, in-service training and conferences, rent free.

Under the plan, the fund would be operated by a six-member board including the city and county mayors, two county commissioners, two city council members – and possibly two school board members if they elected to join in. The plan said that the fund can only hold up to $10 million at the end of each calendar year and that the board will return funds exceeding that $10 million to those revenue sources – the city, county and schools.

“Once the center is paid off, the board has the authority to release all or part of committed revenues back to appropriate sources,” the agreement reads. “It is the responsibility of the board to assure sufficient revenues are in place or will continue to be available as to not place any hardship or burden on any local governing entities.”

Craighead said he will bring a resolution to the city council meeting either on Nov. 19 or on Dec. 3.

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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Cumberland Center, Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead
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