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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for December 15, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Arts District Streetscape Nearing Completion (CDH)

The City of Columbia is nearing the end of a long-awaited streetscape project at South Garden Street, which will serve as a visual, as well as interactive and inviting gateway to the Columbia Arts District.

Much of the completed phase of the project has changed the face of the arts district for years to come.

Sidewalks, ample parking, benches and a freshly paved road make the South Garden entryway almost unrecognizable, creating an inviting environment for visitors to shop at boutiques, sip coffee, eat pasta, puff a cigar or just stroll.

Businesses benefitting from the new ambience are Mama Mila's, Barino's Italian, Bradley Mountain, Southern Charm, Faded Farmhouse, Battleground South Cigar Lounge and many more.

Business owners shared their excitement for the project's completion, such as Beth Sulcer, owner of Southern Charm and Samantha Reinoehl of Faded Farmhouse, who recently relocated to the area from East 6th Street.

"There is so much activity, and it's so nice to see people walking up and down, but it's also fun seeing people drive slow, looking around and gawking, because they are just absorbing it, taking it in," Sulcer said. "And it's just so cool at night driving through it when the lights come on. It's so much fun, and then you see people sitting out on the benches and stuff. Even though we were affected pretty bad going through it, we are looking forward so much to the years to come."

The South Garden streetscape project consisted of making the street one-way up to West 11th Street with roadway upgrades, creating areas for public art and social gathering with new benches, new lighting and more.

It was also one of the top strategic planning items when the city adopted its Arts District Master Plan in July of 2019.

The streetscape project, later approved in October of last year, included a vision of creating a natural, more visual and welcoming gateway into the district, with travelers passing by the Arts District mural at Columbia Fire & Rescue Station No. 1 up to Depot Street.

The project was also executed in conjunction with the fire hall's upcoming plans for expansion and renovation.

City Engineer Glenn Harper also said that, compared to the city's recent years-long West 7th Street project, this one is expected to be completed earlier than expected.

"The South Garden Street project will be roughly finished early, about a month-and-a-half ahead of schedule," Harper said. "There are three main unforeseen items that call for this, one being about 16 inches of pavement that we weren't expecting, as well as some curving we needed to get out of there in order to build the project. We also added a turn lane that was put in late in the game on Carmack that had to be adjusted, which drove the price up a little bit."

While the whole city aims to benefit from the work, the project will benefit local businesses along the South Garden entryway for the foreseeable future.

And though the project included its fair share of growing pains, many of the arts district's local business owners are anxious for what it will mean for customers, as well as future arts-related events, food trucks and its potential for local artists to create.

"Getting to this point makes it all worth it, seeing it all finally come together," Muletown Lumberyard and AMPED Sound and Lighting owner Eric McCandless said. "This will make this area finally look like an arts district. I'm glad we're so fortunate to be in this spot. What I'm really hoping to see for next year are a bunch more arts-driven events, something where we shut down the street and host an all-day festival."

And while being part of an arts-focused district, which includes multiple businesses and multi-functional arts-related facilities like the Columbia Arts Building and the Row & Co., the project also includes an arts element.

In addition to the roadway upgrades, the city is also seeking local artists to contribute to its visual aesthetic by creating artistic crosswalk designs.

"We're actively pursuing having public art for the city, opened a call for artists," Columbia Arts Council Chairman Quan McFall said.

Artists can sign up on the Arts4Columbia Facebook page with no cost.

McFall added that the work would simply consist of submitting a design. The city would take care of the rest.

"That's a big deal for us, because we've been trying to do this for a long time," he said. "We want to make so many things associated with this to happen."

The project's final phases were presented to Columbia City Council last week, with contractor Adams Contracting seeking a change order in the amount of $225,493.76. This would bring the project's total cost to $2,357,725.51.

An unveiling ceremony of the new streetscape has yet to be scheduled, but City Manager Tony Massey said he and the rest of city staff are anxious to see the project reach its completion.

"What we are working on right now is trying to find an artist to do some of the artwork we want to see down there," Massey said. "We've got some proposals out now. We'd like to also see things in the future like street festivals, things of that nature. It'll be a real natural spot to do that kind of thing."

Sulcer added that creating places like an arts district not only is a way to generate inspiration for creatives, but also a place where people can gather, socialize and feel the warm comfort of community. To her, that is the purpose of art, and what will be the biggest benefit from the South Garden streetscape project.

And while being under construction is never easy, especially in the case of roadways, the end goal is all worth it when the dream is to create a better place for those who visit, shop local and gather together on any given day.

"As art is, this is special because it's a creation from people in our own neighborhood, and then some," Sulcer said. "Anytime there is something with the purpose of creating progress, I'm not going to complain."

CPWS Names New CEO (Press Release)

After an extensive search, Columbia Power & Water Systems (CPWS) has announced the hiring of a new president and CEO, Jonathan Hardin. An experienced leader, Hardin served CPWS as the vice president of Water Operations since 2014 and interim president and CEO since March 2023.

Hardin’s diverse background includes serving as an environmental engineer on numerous large projects in support of municipal water and wastewater operations and intricate environmental cleanups involving the reclamation of heavily polluted former industrial sites.

“Jonathan has demonstrated excellence in leading the company over the last several months,” said Eddie Campbell, CPWS board chairman. “He has succeeded in bringing the employees together and has implemented a culture that is leading CPWS into the future. The board is looking forward to working with management to provide power, water and broadband services to Columbia and beyond.”

Hardin is a longtime resident of Columbia, along with his wife, Grace, and their three sons. He is an active member of the Alliance of Hazardous Material Professionals, the Project Management Institute, and the American Water and Wastewater Association and previously served a four-year term as a board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Central Tennessee.

Columbia Power and Water Systems is a public utility owned by the residents of Columbia and Maury County, Tenn. Based on the belief that local ownership investment is good for any utility and community, CPWS’ local direction and control puts their community’s interests first. Serving customers since 1939, Columbia Power & Water Systems operates under the Board of Public Utilities of the City of Columbia. For more about CPWS, visit cpws.com.

Rapha Marketplace (WKOM Audio 1:51)

Yesterday, Rapha Marketplace in Spring Hill held their grand opening. Front Porch Radio’s Mary Susan Kennedy stopped by to see what the marketplace has to offer shoppers…

Sleep Inn Spring Hill Deferred (CDH)

Plans for a Sleep Inn hotel located off Kedron Parkway raised concerns this week from citizens, as well as issues regarding a portion of the property not being in compliance with city codes.

The proposed 22,000-square-foot hotel will consist of three stories, 36 rooms and 72 parking spaces, or two spaces per room.

The Sleep Inn site plan was ultimately deferred to a later date due to issues regarding a curb cut design, which Development Director Peter Hughes said was not in compliance with Spring Hill's Unified Development Code (UDC). Therefore, the applicant T-Square Engineering requested the deferral.

"In second review of this, staff noticed that the proposed second curb cut is in conflict with the UDC and doesn't meet minimum separation requirements," Hughes said. "We informed the applicant of this and they requested the deferral to review this item with staff further. And that is staff's recommendation based on the inability to meet separation requirements."

While there was no further discussion Monday about the hotel, the item did raise a few concerns from citizens, all speaking out against it.

Judy Miller, a nearby resident off Split Rail Lane, said her main concern was the proposed hotel's location off Kedron Parkway being in close proximity with the Summer Meadows neighborhood, as well as the Spring Hill Early Learning Daycare and Preschool. A hotel also might not be the type of business other residents would want for the area, she said.

"Being next door and perhaps sharing the same entrance off of Kedron could potentially create a great safety concern for every parent and every child going into The Learning Center," Miller said.

"This is our downtown district, where one should find places and community residents to enjoy. One should find coffee shops, sandwich shops, barbers, ice-cream stores or nail salons, not a Sleep Inn hotel. It should be located close to a highway, not near or in a residential area."

Battle Creek Highschool Zoned (MSM)

The Maury County School Board approved an amendment last Tuesday, which would adjust attendance zones for the new Battle Creek High School, which is set to open in time for the 2024-25 school year.

The BCHS zone will consist of the current Spring Hill High School zone east of Highway 31, south of Saturn Parkway, and a portion of the current Columbia Central High School zone, south of Bear Creek Pike. Students entering grades 9-10 in the defined zone will attend Battle Creek beginning next August. Meanwhile, students in grades 11-12 will attend Spring Hill High School during the 2024 school year, which includes students currently zoned to both Spring Hill and Columbia Central.

BCHS will serve grades 9-11 for the 2025-26 school year and grades 9-12 in school year 2026 forward.

The Spring Hill High School zone will also extend from its current western line, which runs eastward to Highway 31, by extending south to Highway 43. The Spring Hill Middle School zone is also being adjusted to match the SHHS zone. Grades 5-8 in the area south of Columba Rock Road down to Highway 43 will be moved from Cox Middle School to Spring Hill Middle, per information provided to the school board.

The board voted on the name of the new school last year, opting for Battle Creek High School over the alternative option, Spring Hill High School at Battle Creek.

Constructed by design firm Kline Swinney Associates, the 305,675 square-foot school will house 2,000 students on three stories. The school will include a two-story main lobby, cafeteria with outdoor eating, computer classrooms, and a state-of-the-art media center. Additional spaces include a dual-level auditorium and gymnasium featuring a separate auxiliary gym on the second level, per Kline Swinney.

Meanwhile during the meeting, the board also approved $1.5 million in furnishings for the school, which were purchased off of a Williamson County cooperative.

“Without that Williamson County piggyback, this is over $3 million worth of furniture,” MCPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Eric Perryman said. “We would like to get this approved so we can put the order of the items before the end of the month so they will be in by June or July.”

Maurian Finds Success Off-Road (MSM)

Sometimes finding the right career path means going off the beaten path – literally. That’s the lesson of Maury County native and Tennessee Tech University alumnus Jake Burkey.

The 2009 graduate of Tech’s College of Engineering is now the CEO of Busted Knuckle Off Road, an Alabama-based company that rakes in an estimated $6 million a year manufacturing 850-horsepower off road vehicles known as “rock bouncers” as well as off road vehicle parts ranging from brake lines to chassis and axles.

While Burkey and his team of 23 employees now focus on manufacturing and selling the vehicles, he also spent many years racing them. His early success behind the wheel helped him amass nearly 900,000 Facebook “likes” and 42,000 Instagram followers – an audience Burkey has effectively leveraged to grow his client base and land lucrative sponsorship deals.

It’s a story that all started with a hunting trip gone awry thanks to getting stuck in the mud near his childhood home in Columbia.

“When I was a kid, my dad used to take us out four-wheeling and hunting,” recalled Burkey. “We got stuck in the mud one time and I couldn’t stand it. I was probably 13 or 14 at the time so I saved up all my money and, when I turned 16, I bought a Jeep.”

Burkey immediately started tinkering with his vehicle, outfitting it with a bigger engine, axles and tires. When it came time to consider his post-high school plans, Burkey’s Jeep played an outsized role in the decision.

“I thought if I could create an engineering mindset more than I currently have and go to a good school, I could make my Jeep even cooler,” he said with a laugh.

Drawn to Tech by its strong engineering reputation, Burkey started off as a mechanical engineering major before switching to industrial technology – now known as engineering technology.

Burkey recalls getting hands-on learning opportunities from Tech faculty like Fred Vondra, now the chair of the Department of Manufacturing and Engineering Technology, and the late Delbert Stone, who Burkey says taught him the ins and outs of welding.

“I could not have chosen a better path forward for my education,” added Burkey. “I use it every single day with what I do now … It was the perfect degree to get me where I am today.”

Upon his graduation from Tech, Burkey landed a role as an engineer with a four-unit nuclear power plant in southeast Georgia. Burkey dedicated 10 years to the company, working his way up to a project management role before resigning his position to start his off road business.

Today, Busted Knuckle Off Road is an international success, selling to customers in countries as far ranging as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Canada – but it didn’t happen overnight. Burkey recalls several years of high turnover and sagging morale as the company found its footing.

“Getting people to believe in me and what we were doing here was probably the hardest part,” he said. “People want to skip to the successful part without enduring the hardships of growth.”

These days, Burkey faces no such challenge. The company is on pace to soon outgrow its 27,000-square-foot facility and has plans to design and release new models of its popular rock bouncers over the coming year. Burkey has parlayed his business success into television appearances, magazine spreads and has even been the inspiration for multiple children’s books. He says he is grateful that his accomplishments enable him to provide meaningful careers to his team of employees and an expanding suite of products for his satisfied customers.

“To be able to create an industry that’s never been created before and then see people following me towards those goals and being able to see families flourish off of the dream that I created – that’s probably the most rewarding part,” said Burkey.

Now, he wants to help other aspiring entrepreneurs learn from his journey.

“I would say for people to follow their heart and get a degree that aligns with their passion,” said Burkey. “And I don’t know that there’s a better place that you could go to school than Tennessee Tech. You’ll never get a better environment for knowledge, so soak it up as much as possible. You’re going to use it down the road.”

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mr. Johnny N. Wooten, 86, born in Bartow, FL and a resident of Columbia, TN passed away on December 7, 2023. Visitation will be held at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home in Columbia, TN on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, from 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. A memorial service will follow on Saturday, January 6, 2024, at 10;00 A.M., also at Oakes and Nichols Funeral Home. Johnny will be laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery.

…And now, news from around the state…

Scenic Byways (Press Release)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has partnered with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to create a new electronic guide called the Mountain Byways of Tennessee & North Carolina. The e-Guide is available for free by visiting https://www.tn.gov/tdot/ScenicRoadways and is a web-based resource for travelers to the areas of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

“Travelers treasure the beauty of East Tennessee’s mountains, and we are thrilled to partner with our friends at the North Carolina Department of Transportation to deliver a comprehensive tool that showcases the many scenic drives the region has to offer,” said Deputy Governor & TDOT Commissioner Butch Eley. “Tens of millions of visitors come to the Great Smoky Mountains and National Forests annually. TDOT hopes this e-Guide will be a welcome resource for travelers as they plan their trips.” 

The Mountain Byways of Tennessee & North Carolina e-Guide includes enhanced mapping and route planning features, as well as clickable hyperlinks to attractions. The resource also functions as a PDF when printed at home. The e-Guide showcases visitor experiences and attractions found along 14 individual Scenic Byway routes located adjacent to either Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest, or the Nantahala National Forest.  These experiences and attractions include scenic views, outdoor recreation sites, historic sites, cultural experiences, and sites for youth and families. The Scenic Byway routes highlighted in the e-Guide include:

Tennessee (4 Scenic Byways): East Tennessee Crossing National Scenic Byway, Great Smoky Mountains Byway, Ocoee River Byway, Norris Freeway National Scenic Byway

Tennessee boasts a statewide collection of 13 Scenic Byways, 10 of which are designated as either a “National Scenic Byway” or an “All American Road” by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Tennessee holds the 4th most designations in the nation and has the most designations of any state east of the Mississippi River. Designated routes are eligible to receive National Scenic Byway Program grant funds and are included in the Federal Highway Administration’s “America’s Byways” marketing campaign. More information about the National Scenic Byway Program can be found at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Santa will making some of his final stops around town this weekend leading up to Christmas for photos, hot chocolate, as well as shopping opportunities.

Share a cup of hot cocoa with Santa at Columbia Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Fiat, 106 S. James M. Campbell Blvd. from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.

The Visit Columbia Welcome Center, 713 N. Main St., will also host its final weekly Holiday Characters Story Time from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, which is also free to attend. This week's lineup of characters include Santa and his trusty Elf.

The Factory at Columbia, 101 N. James M. Campbell Blvd., will also have Santa onsite for photo-ops from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, which will also include snacks, hot cocoa, coffee and more. The event is also a fundraiser for A Freedom Journey dog rescue.

If you're downtown on the square, Santa will make a stop at Columbia Health Foods, 106 W. 7th St., from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

On Sunday, The Mulehouse, 812 S. High St., will host photos with Santa from 3-5 p.m., which is also free to attend. For the adults, enjoy holiday-themed cocktails, snacks and more. There might also be a few treats available for your furry friends as well.


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