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UT, Vandy students partner for city

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By CONNIE ESH, The Wilson Post

Architecture students from the University of Tennessee have some exciting plans for Lebanon. The plans are part of a special dual class focused on Lebanon. A Vanderbilt University business class taught by Thomas McDaniel is partnered with an architecture class from UT taught by Thomas Davis.

The classes worked from a study of community interests, strengths and needs done a little more than a year ago by the American Institute of Architects, as a starting point.

That original visioning conference, in August 2007, started the whole process. It was attended by more than 140 Lebanon residents, city officials, business owners and Cumberland University representatives.

One thing suggested by several participants was to transform the Square into a more inviting entertaining area. The students liked that suggestion.

One created a plan to turn the parking lot surrounding the Gen. Hatton statue into a sunken garden-style park. He also wanted to redesign the Farmers Market to be an urban orchard with lots of green parking and shade for buyers and sellers alike.

The nearby areas could become a pocket park or possibly hold high-end condos overlooking the park. A newly created entrance to Cumberland University from Highway 231/ South Cumberland Avenue was also on the list created by the earlier study.

Another student suggested renovating the old Capitol Theater and rebuilding the small hotel which used to be next door to the theater.

Changes to help the Square including recruiting interesting restaurants and adding a parking garage nearby were also suggested by that study.

And two of students described ways to do just that, add apartments, parking garages and ground-floor restaurants, bistros and shops to the blocks on either side of the Square.

While the students said they are aware that not all of the things they suggest can happen, they say if one or two get funded others could be added later after the first changes improve the business and residential areas surrounding the Square, in a kind of domino effect.

Another plan the students presented Saturday included the possibility of developing the area close to the Music City Star train stop into an art park with shops and residences adjoining the train station.

All of the plans emphasized green construction and transit-oriented development, both of which stand a much better chance of funding, according to the Vanderbilt business students who are working on that part of the plan.

And all are built to avoid problems with the 100-year flood plain as well. The plans are aimed at attracting young adults and young families as well as retirees.

The compact plans emphasize walking, biking and public transit as ways to get around, as opposed to needing lots of space for cars.

The two classes have met once a month in Lebanon all semester to share information and ideas.

Now they are planning a final meeting in Nashville at the civic design center on Friday, April 24 to find builders and agencies who may want to put some of the ideas into use.

The Vanderbilt students will be discussing the financial workability of the plans at that time.

Tennessee Department of Transportation, Nashville Metro Transit as well as several developers, landscape architects and engineers have agreed to attend.

Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at

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