New development to bring city square to Spring Hill

By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

A major mixed-use development is promising to bring something new to Spring Hill: a city square.
While many communities have grown up around downtowns and courthouse squares, the city of Spring Hill developed in a different way. Founded in 1808, the community lost much of its “old town” area due to the Civil War and natural disasters, eventually becoming a smaller agricultural community.
The city dramatically changed shape in the 1980s when the location of the Saturn automotive plant – now General Motors – quickly transformed the city from a small town into a booming city. Spring Hill’s population went from a little under 1,000 in 1980 to nearly 45,000 today. In fact, Spring Hill was ranked earlier this year as the second-fastest growing city in the state.
As a result of this boom in industry and residents, Spring Hill City Administrator Victor Lay said the city presently doesn’t have a traditional town square like many of its neighboring communities.
“So much of the area was destroyed by natural circumstances,” Lay said. “There have been one or two fires that came through the town in the early 20th Century and wiped out a good portion of the downtown area. There has been at least one tornado that hit the same area. There are not very many historical buildings left. We have a few antebellum houses, but not a lot of historical commercial buildings. It really wiped the slate clean. The city sort of developed as a strip with residential homes behind it and lost a lot of that character where the old city used to be.”
However, the idea of creating a square to serve as a focal point for commercial and civic activity has long been discussed by city leaders. The project really began to get off the ground when local officials and developers learned that a local landmark was being put up for sale.
“It so happened the Tennessee Children’s Home was looking for a new campus and was debating whether to build on the campus at their present location in the center of town or buy new property and move off that campus,” Lay said. “They ultimately made the arrangement to acquire some property on the western side of the city limits and decided to move their campus to a brand-new location. That decision served as a catalyst for our project. People saw it as a great place to create the square we don’t have.”
The new Kedron Square development will be centered around the former Tennessee Children’s Home campus in Spring Hill. Incorporated in 1909, the residential care facility and former orphanage moved into the historic Ferguson Hall, an antebellum mansion constructed in 1853, after purchasing the property in 1935.
The organization then sold the 120-acre site to the city of Spring Hill in 2019 as the organization began its transition into a new campus, which will be complete by the end of 2021.
Lay said city officials, members of the community, and developers have been looking at various options to create a square that best benefits all involved at the site.
“It‘s been through a couple of iterations in trying to figure out what will work,” he said. “We are looking at a mixture of residential and commercial space as well as public space, green space, and have even looked at moving city hall over there. Ultimately, the financial limitations didn’t work for that. The current plan is the third iteration of our plans with a third developer who has put together a plan that doesn’t rely as much on the government moving in and building things in the area, as it does the private sector and retail with public space, green space, and civic space. We want it to have a commercial space but more of a square type feel.”
Developer Catalyst Design Group has released plans for commercial, restaurant, office, hotel, and residential development throughout the area as well as an 8-acre public park and historical markers highlighting the history of the site.
The group is working to make the entire development walkable with the hopes of using the residential sections of the development as a built-in customer-base for the commercial areas. The historic Ferguson Hall will also be preserved and incorporated into a hotel.
Lay said one of the requirements from the city is that businesses located in the commercial district cannot have more than 15 franchises located anywhere in the state, encouraging more small businesses to locate in the area.
“Basically, you ask what you want to exist in a town square, what are the things that make it a viable place that makes people want to go there,” he said. “You have to ask if that is commercial areas and what kind of commercial areas those are. It’s typically not a big chain store but more mom-and-pop, single-store owner type businesses.”
Since Kedron Square is being constructed by a private company, Lay said the project has to be financially viable for developers.
“They have to invest all this money and build this infrastructure, but also recoup their money by making the commercial section successful,” Lay said. “They have divided the area up into different intensity of commercial and different intensities of residential. They have to look at whether they want apartments or condos, multi-family homes or single-family detached. They had to have a financial model that supported the square area. The city’s input gets to be in the planning process, but everyone’s interests have to be addressed for the project to be successful. There has to be a balance between the cost of all the infrastructure versus the payback to the developer.”
After installing basic infrastructure like water, sewer, and roadways, Lay said one of the first phases of the project will be the construction of 81 single family homes and a community park open to the public.
Overall, the construction of the entire project will be done in phases over a period of 10 years and is expected to generate roughly $100 million for the city in a 20-year period.
“The commercial area is what excites us the most,” Lay said. “The development of the front lawn of the Ferguson Hall and the hotel as well as the square and commercial area in behind that excite us because it gives us something that we currently don’t have. It gives us a style of development we don’t have and a since of place that we don’t have. That is what those working on the development get really excited about. We think it will be a great addition and focal point to the community. It will also preserve one of the historic homes and make it an integral part of this development.”