A group of Antioch residents who prefer an old movie theater be converted into a community college facility instead of a proposed mosque claim to have collected 1,000 signatures in support of their cause.
Over the past few days, community activists have canvassed neighborhoods in Antioch, leading a petition-drive to request that Carmike Cinemas sell its property at 5400 Bell Forge Lane to Nashville State Community College if the Islamic Center of Tennessee is unable to raise enough funds to close on a contract they’ve already signed.
The Islamic organization, which would refurbish the building into a mosque and community center, claims to have raised $1.18 million of the $1.55 million asking price. The group’s website features a live ticker that counts down to the Aug. 9 closing date.
In the past, Nashville State Community College had submitted a bid to purchase the building. The school’s proposal was rejected because of the lengthy time frame projected to close on the deal.
Karen Johnson, a Metro school board member and one the activists pushing the petition-drive, said approximately 1,000 area residents have, in short time, signed a petition calling for the community college to be reconsidered. Johnson said the school, which could inject more activity into the struggling Antioch area, would be more beneficial to the area than a mosque.
The plan is to eventually to meet with Carmike theater’s board of directors to hand them the petitions.
“I want to make it clear, it’s not an issue about the mosque, because there was another church that also bid on the property,” Johnson said. “It’s more an issue that we really need to have Nashville Tech in the community.”
The Antioch neighbors seem to be taking two separate routes to achieve their goal.
The petition itself requests that the college be allowed to re-submit its proposal prior to final approval of an “alternative buyer,” presumably if the Islamic center is unable to raise enough funds.
“If the current proposal that’s on the table –– the agreement between Carmike and the Islamic center –– falls through, we’d like (the college) to have an opportunity to present another offer,” said Steve Abernathy, a volunteer in the petition-drive effort.
Meanwhile, an email that’s been circulated by Johnson asks that a satellite campus for the school be reconsidered over the mosque.
“Even though the owners of Bell Forge Theater, Carmike Theaters ... have initially signed a contract with the Islamic Center of Tennessee, we hope to convince them that the community would be better served with an educational facility and to allow NSTCC another chance to bid on the property,” Johnson’s email reads.
George Van Allen, president of Nashville State Community College, indicated that the college still has an interest in purchasing the theater.
“It’s not that our interest evaporated,” he said. “The offer to sell was taken off the table for us.”
Le Champion, senior vice president and general counsel for Carmike, could not immediately be reached for comment.