It was once an active and vibrant shopping plaza, but today the Town and Country Shopping Center on South Congress Boulevard, Smithville is no more and the buildings are vacant and for sale.
County Mayor Mike Foster says the 62,000 square foot complex could be just what the local government needs to help relieve overcrowding at the courthouse and to provide space for other community events and activities.
Foster says the county has been in negotiations with the owner of the property and has a chance to purchase it for around $750,000. The final decision will rest with the county commission. "We have been having some problems in the courthouse with space. We're running out of space to store things and some of the offices are extremely tight (needing space). We've been talking for two or three years about trying to build a building to take up some of that slack. We bought a lot on Highway 56 for that purpose when it was in a bankruptcy sale. We thought that was a really good situation and in a good location. But just lately, we started talking and negotiating with the guy who owns what was known as the Smithville Food Center shopping center. We've been talking with him for several weeks about that track of land which is about 5.2 acres located on Highway 56. The property goes over toward Bryant Street and down by the BP station and it backs up to Smithville Elementary School. It's about seven hundred feet on the back line and it's got 62,000 square feet of buildings there where several businesses used to be located. Of course, they're vacant now and have been for some time. It's actually appraised at $1.2 million which is what the current owner paid for it in 2002. The county budget committee authorized me to talk with him (owner) to see what we could come up with. He started out wanting $1.2 million and came down until he has finally priced it in the neighborhood of $750,000. We have signed a contract with him to give us thirty days to get engineers, etc to look at it and see if we could buy part or all of the shopping center and the land."
A lack of adequate courthouse space has been a problem for several years but if the county makes this purchase, Foster says some of the public officials on the second floor of the courthouse could relocate their offices to the shopping center, creating more room at the courthouse for record storage and more space for the Circuit, Juvenile, and Chancery Courts. Foster says the shopping center would still have plenty of space for rooms or buildings that the county could lease to non-profit organizations or have available for civic functions. "Of course there's more space in there than we would need for the courthouse. One of those buildings would do for that (courthouse annex). We think one building, we could divide into probably at least five good, large office spaces and have a conference room in there too and then move some of the court offices ( from the third floor of the courthouse) down to the second floor (of the courthouse) and relieve a lot of that space shortage. Most of our records, we have to keep forever, some of them we have to keep for seven years. We absolutely have no where do to that properly right now."
"Some of the other buildings (shopping center), we could only lease to non-profit organizations or state agencies. We have looked at maybe being able to rent to a couple of state agencies and if we could do that, we think we could at least pay the interest on that (debt) by renting. Plus we would still have some extra space that maybe we could have, for the lack of a better term, a civic center. But when I say civic center, I mean a place where people could have public meetings or events. One of the things we were thinking about is talking to Motlow State Community College or Tennessee Tech and maybe get them to have some college classes there for people who are working, but would like to take some college courses or work force development training to try and improve their employment opportunities. Those are the types of things that benefit the entire county."
"It's a good fix for a lot of our problems. I know for those people who talk about wanting a civic center like McMinnville, this doesn't meet that need, but it's way better than what we've got. We don't want to buy something to just sink money into but if the buildings pan out and the engineer says that everything looks good, I think this would certainly relieve the overcrowding at the courthouse. There would be plenty of open parking for people needing to do business with the county and it would certainly give us room for something in the way of community rooms where we could have meetings, maybe performing arts, exercise rooms, and things that kids, senior citizens, and everybody could use, and we could get into it for not much money."
The county commission may discuss the issue at their next meeting on Monday night, September 28th at the courthouse.
In March, 2008 the county commission voted to purchase a small lot near the public square as a possible future location for a courthouse annex.
The property, which belonged to Doug Hodges, became available as a result of a bankruptcy finalization stemming from the B. Don James case.
The county bought that property, about eight tenths of an acre, for $125,000 on a three year note.
That site, which the county still owns, is about 200 feet x 150 feet and is located between North Congress Boulevard, East Church Street, First Street, and East Walnut Street.