GE sale for battlefield preservation expected by October

July 9, 2019, The Murfreesboro Post, Jason Reynolds

The Tennessee Wars Commission said the deal to preserve the old GE plant on Northwest Broad Street, pictured here, is pending and could take up to four months to complete. Preservationists are applying for a $1.8 million grant and also holding an online fundraiser to gather the $4 million that is needed to buy the land. JASON M. REYNOLDS

The sale of the GE/O’Reilly distribution center to a battlefield preservation coalition is still pending and should happen by the fall, a state official said, and a preservation organization is collecting money to make the deal happen.

Nina Scall, director for programs at the Tennessee Wars Commission, said the deal should close this fall, no later than October.

The Tennessee Wars and Historical commissions in February announced they planned to grant the American Battlefield Trust more than $1.82 million to buy the 42-acre site on Northwest Broad Street at Thompson Lane.

“We are working with both parties to do the deal,” Scall said. “We are in the process of writing the grant” which will then require approval by each party. “It is exciting. It’s the largest grant we’re doing this year.”

Preservationists must provide some matching funds to make the deal happen.

A spokeswoman for the American Battlefield Trust in February said the organization does not comment on possible land transactions. She did not return a phone call last week seeking comment on the deal’s status.

However, the American Battlefield Trust’s website, battlefields.org, says the organization’s goal is to raise $170,000 to cover what federal and state grand funding would not provide.

“O’Reilly Auto Parts has generously agreed to sell 42 acres of land at Stones River battlefield for $4.0 million,” the website says. “And thanks to federal funding and a state matching-grant, the Trust needs to raise just $170,000 of the total cost to secure this tract. That’s a $33.94-to-$1 match of your donation dollar.”

“With much of the Stones River battlefield already swallowed up by development, these 42 acres qualify as the largest unprotected tract still available for preservation,” the trust’s website said. “We’ve had our eye on this land for years, but there was never a realistic chance to save it – until now! This tract also connects two widely separated wings of already-preserved battleground, helping tell a more complete story of the fateful battle that ushered in the third year of the Civil War.”

Connecting the two portions of the battlefield will also provide a more cohesive experience to visitors of Stones River National Battlefield, which last year saw its fourth highest annual attendance in the park’s 92-year history, the trust said.

O’Reilly bought the General Electric property in 2017 to build a distribution center, according to previous press reports, but that plan never materialized. The company planned a 443,775-square-foot distribution center and 7,225-square-foot retail store at the site where it would employ 425 people with prospects to hire up to 500.

City officials had expressed concerns over the traffic impact, press reports said. An O’Reilly official also said the city had told the company its plan did not match the city’s vision for development, despite the property being zoned for industrial use.

During its attempt to make the site work, O’Reilly reworked its traffic plan and proposed to modify Thompson Lane, widen Northwest Broad Street and erect a traffic signal.

Editor’s note: Previous reporting by Sam Stockard contributed to this story.