Cumberland closes Corner land deal

Staff Reports • Jun 29, 2018 at 8:58 PM

Cumberland University president Paul Stumb and the board of trust announced Thursday the university officially closed on the land purchase for the proposed Cumberland Corner project.

The university bought 3.5 acres of land on South Greenwood Avenue, between Leeville Pike and Martin Avenue that had previously contained nine separate home structures. The land will underlie about 70 residential housing units for the continuously increasing student body at Cumberland.

Stumb said he is grateful to all of the supporters of the university, especially those whose donations made this phase of the project possible.

“Signing the papers to finalize the purchase of this land was a small step for me as the president of Cumberland, but a large leap for the university,” Stumb said. “Being able to grow our campus and provide our students with new residential housing will open countless opportunities for our future. With record enrollment last year, Cumberland is bursting at the seams, and having a place like Cumberland Corner will help ensure that our campus has the facilities it needs to support continued growth.”

The project will not only help the university to accommodate its growing student body, but it will also help to revitalize a previously neglected area of Lebanon, Stumb said.

In a report from the Middle Tennessee State University’s Business and Economic Research Center that focused on the economic impact Cumberland has on Wilson County, the study determined local business, personal income and employment are greatly impacted by university-related spending. The report said Cumberland “has been a crucial factor in the competitive and transformative development of both the city of Lebanon and Wilson County.”

“Everything that Cumberland University does impacts both Wilson County and the city of Lebanon,” said Stumb. “The Cumberland Corner project is one example of the positive strides the university is taking to better our community and we are dedicated to continuing these efforts.”

In early May, Cumberland University announced it had raised more than $680,000 for its Cumberland Corner project after the Lebanon City Council declined to donate $850,000 for the project in April.

Stumb said he received dozens of messages and calls following the meeting from people who expressed disappointment in the council’s decision not to donate to the project.

The council initially agreed to donate $850,000 to be used to buy the land for Cumberland Corner. However, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the Municipal Technical Advisory Service opined the move was not legal, despite city attorney Andy Wright’s assurance to the council it was.

Following that, Councilor Rob Cesternino sponsored the resolution to donate $850,000 to Cumberland University to buy the properties. If Cumberland had failed to finish construction of Cumberland Corner, estimated to cost $15 million-$20 million, within 48 months of the donation, it would have been required to return the donation to the city.

Many residents voiced concerns about the plans, mainly about the project’s benefit to the city, or the belief that taxpayer funds should not go toward the private institution and used on other ventures and issues.

In a roll call vote, Councilor Tick Bryan joined Cesternino in support of the donation, while councilors Joey Carmack and Chris Crowell flipped from their original “yes” votes to oppose the measure. Councilor Rick Bell abstained his vote because of his position as a history professor at Cumberland, and Councilor Fred Burton was absent from the meeting due to illness.

“I’ve never done a crowd funding campaign before, but I know you all know how to do it. If you’ll help us and contribute to this important initiative, we can make the Cumberland Corner a reality,” Stumb said on the campaign video.

Landowner Drew Boggs said he gave the university an extension on the land purchase following the council meeting.

“I love the university, and I know it’s best for the university and best for Lebanon,” said Boggs, who is a Cumberland alumnus.

Stumb said Boggs indicated before the council meeting he would renovate properties and potentially build duplexes on the properties after he has secured land for Cumberland Corner for several years.

He said he did not feel the residential development would be in the best interests of either entity.

“Through that meeting, it has fueled the fire for so many people to step up,” he said. “It has motivated people to step up, and a lot of people have. If the city won’t support it, the people, alumni and supporters will.”

Stumb highlighted the university’s need to expand during the council meeting, noting increased enrollment has caused the need to upgrade campus facilities. He said the university added 14 full-time professors and about 75 adjunct professors to keep up with a 50-percent enrollment jump in the last two years.

The university has acquired several houses near the campus to accommodate students, and Cumberland Corner could help alleviate some issues with housing.

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