Karen Johnson was sworn into the Metro Council only a week ago, but she’s already making a plea that’s been at the forefront of concerns for Antioch residents for years: Bring a new community center and park space to southeast Davidson County — by far Nashville’s fastest growing area.
Johnson, the former school board member elected in August to fill the council’s District 29 seat, appeared before the nine-member Metro Department of Parks and Recreation board Tuesday morning to highlight the urgency to bring recreational opportunities, community space and public investment to Antioch, specifically the area east of Murfreesboro Pike.
"We are the only area of Davidson County where we don’t have recreational outlets for our children and families,” Johnson told the parks board.
“We want to be able to provide a center or place where families will go safely and be able to recreate and have community meetings,” she said. “I beg of you to please do what is possible.”
To accommodate a new community center, Johnson requested the parks board consider purchasing what she described as approximately 100 acres at 171 Bell Road near the intersection of Nashboro Boulevard. She said the property, located near the Nashboro Village Apartments complex and a golf course, is currently for sale.
Johnson also asked board members to look at 2084 Smith Springs Road as an opportunity to acquire land that could go toward Mayor Karl Dean’s open space plan, which seeks to preserve thousands of acres of land that could otherwise be developed.
“This would be a good area to advance walking initiatives, exercising and enjoying space with their families,” Johnson said, adding the space is also well equipped to feature a dog park.
Antioch already has one community center at 5032 Blue Hole Road, but the building is far from the Bell Road parcels Johnson described.
Dean’s administration last year unveiled a plan for a revamped Hickory Hollow Mall, which included several new public utilities, anchored by a new community center and relocated fairgrounds expo center. A plan to lease the mall space fell apart when Dean backed away from his fairgrounds redevelopment plans.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said the city is now in conversations about acquiring — not leasing — the mall building last occupied by JC Penney to house a regional community center. Combined with a new Nashville State Community College satellite campus, he said its addition would help “rejuvenate” the struggling mall, which CBL & Associates Properties Inc. owns.
“We’re continuing to look at all the issues associated with real estate,” Riebeling said. “We’re moving forward with looking at potentially purchasing the Penny’s building.”
Riebeling said a proposal for the Hickory Hollow community center could go before the council this fall.
But even if the Hickory Hollow community center were to come to fruition, Johnson said the project would only partially meet the area’s demand, adding that the area to the east of Murfreesboro Pike needs aggressive exploration.
Tommy Lynch, the park department’s interim director, said Metro’s Parks and Greenways Master Plan has identified the need for three additional community centers in southeast Davidson County.
Lynch also said Johnson’s request for more open space is consistent with the department’s desires. He said officials are already looking at available open land in Antioch.
“Her request is totally in line with the open space plan,” Lynch said. “It’s been identified as an area for us to look for property.”
Given the area’s growth, parks board member James Lawson said the board should “seriously consider” making greater investments in southeast Davidson County.
“It is sorely needed,” Lawson said.