Rutherford County hopes to fasten white-collar jobs to Gateway park

Monday, June 23, 2008 at 1:59am
Construction continues at Gateway Business Park, which helped Rutherford County become one of the fastest growing in the country. Matthew Williams/The City Paper

Almost a decade ago, Murfreesboro government and business leaders hatched a plan to reshape the city’s image into a destination for white-collar jobs.

The effort got a slow start with some controversy over a centerpiece property but development eventually blossomed with retail, hotel, and residential and commercial development. And Rutherford County became one of the fastest growing in the country.

However, there is one goal the city has yet to achieve — to become another Class-A office destination that brings in white-collar jobs.

Gateway Business Park is at the center of that goal. The development has some office development now, but Murfreesboro leaders think that the big spark would come by Bridgestone/Firestone choosing the city over Akron, Ohio, for a research and testing facility with 500 jobs.

“If Murfreesboro is chosen in the Gateway area, it would be the corporate anchor in my opinion,” said Roger Haley, Murfreesboro’s city manager who was careful to say “if.”

The original proposal for the Gateway land, hatched in 1998, was named Commerce Center. That development was to consist of a 27-hole golf course, a commercial office park and a hotel and conference center.

When the city sought to issue a $39 million bond to fund the development, a citizens’ action group pushed for a public referendum on the bond issue.

Instead of setting an election date, the Murfreesboro City Council scuttled those plans.

Then in 2003, “Destination Rutherford” was hatched. Millions in private money were raised for the effort to market the county and a new plan for the Commerce Center property was drawn up with a new Middle Tennessee Medical Center as an anchor.

The main road through the property is named Medical Center Parkway. Construction on the medical center was delayed and only now is being built.

Haley said the medical center still helped “set the tone for the medical community.”

Although the anchor for the area was delayed, other office construction occurred, consisting of Class-A speculative development and medical office buildings.

The development, however, isn’t on par with the millions of square feet built in Cool Springs or the rest of Williamson County, and real estate developers have long questioned Murfreesboro’s chances for becoming a Class-A office destination at the same level of Cool Springs.

“Everyone is for Murfreesboro to get some,” said Pat Emery, senior vice president for Crescent Resources, which created the office market in Cool Springs. “It’s just a matter of magnitude.”

Cool Springs still has room for more office development.

“We have plans for 10 more years,” Emery said.

In terms of where office users will go before Murfreesboro, Emery said downtown Nashville and Cool Springs are the likely candidates.

“If gas prices keep going higher, that’s going to define where office is going to go,” he said.

Holly Weber, vice president of the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce said the area ends up on the short list for office relocations.

“There’s a reason for that,” Weber said.

Chiefly, a lot of employees who commute to Nashville and Cool Springs live in Rutherford County. In addition, Middle Tennessee State University is an asset that is used in selling the county.

“It makes for a unique opportunity for business,” she said.

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