The station officially opened Aug. 27 and adds to a transit system still relatively new but has seen much popularity with a recorded number of more than 2.5 million passengers in 10 years, and with 294,000 trips in the 2018 fiscal year, the highest number of annual trips so far.
Steve Bland, chief executive officer of the Regional Transportation Authority of Middle Tennessee, said RTA sees the its highest number of riders from Wilson County compared to all of its other regional corridors. Bland also emphasized the Music City Star’s unique opportunity to convince those weary of mass transit it can and will play a vital role in the future of Middle Tennessee.
“The value of the Star to all of Middle Tennessee is that it gives people an opportunity who are a little bit skeptical [and think,] ‘Oh, that may work in New York; it may work it Boston; it’ll never work here.’ It does work here, and we’re going to continue to work to improve the Star and try and make up ways to be opportunistic about potential development and partnerships and just keep building on what we have here,” Bland said.
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash spoke to the crowd and reminded them of all the hard work that goes into such a partnership of private and public development, a partnership that happened between the Bell family, who has deep roots in Wilson County and developed the Hamilton Springs community, and the state and local governments.
“These things don’t just happen,” Ash said. “You don’t just wake up one day and all of a sudden you have a transit-oriented development. We have a depot. we have all of these apartments and beautiful places to live. People have to get involved and have to provide leadership and capital and take risks, and when all that comes together, this is an example of what can happen.
“This is another great example of the growth that Lebanon and Wilson County has experienced. Every day it seems like something new is going on, and this is certainly one of those things that we’re very happy about. This is a perfect example of a public-private partnership and how it should work between the Bell family, the state, the city and the county. A lot of things have happened and come together to create this depot today.”
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto echoed Ash’s sentiments and said the lifestyle change that is coming to Wilson County and the positive impact the Bell family has had throughout the years and continues to have throughout the Middle Tennessee.
“This provides a different community to lifestyle. The train station is the icing on the cake, but when you look at what’s going on in the Middle Tennessee area, it’s a highlight. This is a different lifestyle for those folks living over here in those homes [at Hamilton Springs.] It’s an icon as we talk about the stage of development that will happen along this rail,” Hutto said.
“The opening today of this Hamilton Station shows the progressive nature of the citizen leadership – not government leadership, citizen leadership – in Wilson County. It sets Wilson County apart, I believe, from any other county in the state. It gives the citizens of this county a different lifestyle, and to me it’s another example of why Wilson County is the best place to live in the state of Tennessee.”
Jack Bell, one of the Bell brothers, is a developer who is responsible for the first transit-oriented development in Middle Tennessee with Hamilton Springs. He spoke about the usual struggles with private developers working with governments and noted those usual struggles weren’t present with this development.
“This has been the easiest and nicest project to work not with the city, but with the county and the state and RTA that I’ve ever been involved in. Everybody wanted to make this thing work, so I think everybody in the community should be proud,” Jack Bell said. “It’s not mine and Rick’s, it’s the community’s.”
The Bell family donated land the station sits on, with 160 parking spots and within walking distance of the Hamilton Springs community that sits just a few hundred yards away.
“When we can do mass transit right, which means that it has reliable travel time, it’s competitive with the automobile, then when you supplement that with things like the Bells are doing, having a lifestyle where people can actual walk to transit or walk to retail, people will use their cars less. They’re not going to give it up entirely, but they’ll use them less. Then that really is part of the solution [to transportation issues,]” Bland said.
Rick Bell, a Lebanon city councilor for Ward 6, professor of history at Cumberland University and the other Bell brother, brought a history lesson with him as he thanked the crowd.
Rick Bell said in the site where the Hamilton Springs community and train station are located were once a cattle farm and before that it was a mule farm. Even further back it was the location of the Hamilton Springs Resort, and 100 years ago, it was also the location of the Hamilton Springs train station, a history that has now come full circle as Wilson County races into the future, full steam ahead.