Auto parts distribution or historic preservation?

Sam Stockard, The Murfreesboro Post, October 17, 2017

More than 150 years after Union and Confederate troops shed blood here, Friends of Stones River National Battlefield is waging its own fight: an effort to forge a partnership with Murfreesboro for the purchase of a proposed O’Reilly Auto Parts distribution site.

The idea is to preserve green space near the federal park and stave off traffic problems. But wrangling a financial commitment from city leaders is proving difficult as they grapple with their own list of long-term projects.

Mike Liles, president of the battlefield support group, is trying to hammer out the agreement.  He wants to bring the Civil War Trust and city of Murfreesboro together to buy the former General Electric plant site along Northwest Broad and Thompson Lane for $4.4 million, with each group putting in half the money.

Liles, a former state representative, had a solid commitment from the Civil War Trust at one point but says the city doesn’t appear to be willing to participate.

“I think the city of Murfreesboro is making a mistake by not buying this property for half price,” Liles says.

A “glimmer of hope” remains, though, Liles says, and he’s lobbying city leaders to discuss the matter this week.

A City Council workshop on capital improvements is scheduled 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 20 at City Hall, room 218.

Says City Councilman Bill Shacklett, “It is certainly a worthy offer and something I would love to see happen. But I don’t know if it fits with our priorities.”

The battlefield remains Rutherford County’s biggest tourism attraction, bringing thousands of visitors annually. Timing could be a big problem for this proposal, Shacklett says, and he encourages community members to keep pushing if the city doesn’t get involved.

“Passion and persistence and patience yield opportunity,” Shacklett says.

Liles believes the property purchased by O’Reilly would create a natural fit with the battlefield across Northwest Broad near McFadden Lane, which is part of the battlefield, and provide opportunities to build more greenways in that area for recreation and a chance to gain more insight into the battle, an event in which both sides claimed victory on different days.

The battle raged across much of what is now west, northwest and north Murfreesboro from Dec. 31, 1862 when Confederate troops stormed Union encampments until late Jan. 2, 1863, when Union artillery fire crushed a Confederate attack in the area near McFadden Farm, west of Thompson Lane near Van Cleve Lane. Southern troops withdrew the next day.

Though the battlefield visitor center, national cemetery and Hazen Brigade Monument are located along Old Nashville Highway with a main entrance on Thompson Lane, the McFadden Farm and artillery monument are key parts of the battlefield along the Stones River West Fork east of Northwest Broad Street and accessible mainly by Van Cleve.

How it started

O’Reilly bought the 42-acre site in 2016 for $4.4 million to construct a 450,000-square-foot distribution center for the Nashville area, employing 425 people, according to a company official.

The city Planning Commission hasn’t reviewed O’Reilly’s plans, but planning, engineering and transportation staff members have identified problems in the company’s traffic study and “flaws” in handling traffic to and from the center, according to city spokesman Mike Browning.

O’Reilly continues to work with the city on a traffic and access plan, according to Scott Kraus, senior vice president of Real Estate and Expansion for Missouri-based O’Reilly.

“We hope we can come to a good resolution on both of our ends,” Kraus says.

Krause acknowledges the company was “entertaining” the possibility of selling the land to the Civil War Trust and city. But he points out O’Reilly bought the property, which is zoned for its distribution use, in order to build a regional facility.

The company hasn’t received any local incentives and is working with the Chamber of Commerce on a potential tax break through the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board, according to Kraus.

Liles, however, contends the city of Murfreesboro needs to keep traffic congestion to a minimum rather than allow O’Reilly trucks to clog the area. Such a move would give O’Reilly a way to get out from under its purchase, since it’s having trouble meeting traffic and access requirements by the city, Liles says.

Even if O’Reilly comes up with an improved traffic plan, Liles says the distribution center will still cause “a mammoth problem” at the intersection.

The Civil War Trust looked into buying the O’Reilly property at its purchase price but was able to come up with only half the money. The Christy-Houston Foundation, which provides grant funding for local health-related projects, has opted so far not to participate.

Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland says “the bigger issue” is whether the City Council would be able to put the $2.2 million into its $343 million capital improvements plan.

Education, public safety and roads are considered priorities for borrowing money, McFarland says, and the city already is planning to build a West Park and other recreation facilities totaling $73 million over the next five years.

“The city recognizes the historical and economic impact of Stones River Battlefield, but funding the $2.2 million gap in the Trust’s efforts would most likely rank lower than other capital projects with a direct link to city services,” Browning says. “Additionally, there is no current estimate or plan to improve this property if it was acquired from O’Reilly.”

Browning adds, “Any funding to assist the Trust to acquire the former GE site would compete with these park projects and other city capital improvement projects.”