Watkins College won't pursue Free Will campus

Watkins College of Art & Design has made the decision not to pursue its development plans for the Free Will Baptist Bible College campus in the historical Richland/Central Avenue neighborhood, the college announced today.

The college, which is in a growth mode, was looking at the nine-acre campus for relocation from its current spot on Armory Drive near the 100 Oaks area.

After studying the extent of renovations needed to convert the facilities to what the school would need, the school "determined that other sites could be more adaptable to the college's needs," said Jim Brooks, president of Watkins.

"It's a wonderful location and the buildings are in pretty good shape," said Mr. Brooks, but that the buildings would need extensive reworking. Free Will Baptist's instruction tends toward lectionary while Watkins has a film school, an interior design department, painting and sculpture studios and other space-intensive offerings, Mr. Brooks said.

"It was a matter of how we could feasibly convert those spaces," said Mr. Brooks.

He cited as well concerns on the part of the school and the neighbors about adequate parking and traffic. The campus sits in a residential area that has gentrified rapidly over the past 15 years. "And there was opposition from some of the neighbors with regard to traffic and parking," said Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Brooks said the colleges had agreed on a purchase price, which he declined to disclose. Free Will Baptist was rumored to be asking $14.3 million for the property. It is building a new campus in Joelton, the cost of which is about $18 million. Nick Spiva, a developer who was in negotiations with Free Will Baptist college until late last year, offered $13.5 million.

Much of the property on the campus has conditions attached to any redevelopment that effectively cap the value of the land. The Richland Avenue properties are zoned for single-family residences, while the I-440 overlay prevents commercial zoning past I-440. In addition, a powerful and vocal neighborhood organization has a forceful vote in what does or does not happen..

Neighbors to shop out own plan

Because the neighborhood has been surprised by various plans for the campus, they have banded together to "hopefully control our own destiny," says Tom Truitt, neighborhood association president. The neighbors, which include both architects and landscape architects, has put together renderings of a development scheme they would accept, at the suggestion of Nick Spiva. The plan is to shop the plan to large residential developers outside Nashville.

"We wanted something aesthetically consistent with the neighborhood down to the fine details," said Mr. Truitt. "It’s a comprehensive, end-to-end project. It's not necessarily infill. It could involve moving existing structures and removing some of the more modern buildings of campus.