Free Will tries different approach for selling prime location

Friday, February 10, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 6
By Bill Lewis

Free Will Baptist Bible College occupies eight and a-half of the most desirable – and hardest to sell – acres in Nashville. Now five years after the latest of many attempts to sell fell through, the private school is once again actively seeking a buyer so it can move to Gallatin.

The college has hired one of Nashville’s top residential real estate firms, French Christianson Patterson & Associates, to conduct a marketing campaign to sell the property.

“It’s not going to be a quick project,” says Ellen Christianson, a principal with the firm.

The property, located on West End Avenue just west of 440 Parkway, could be purchased by another school or redeveloped. The small portion of the property facing West End could be used for multi-family housing. The majority of the property can be developed only as single-family housing under its current zoning, says Craig Owensby, Metro Planning Department spokesman.

In addition, many structures on the property are protected by a “conservation overlay” that restricts any developer’s ability to tear them down, he says.

“We’ve had several people come in and talk to us” over the years about redeveloping the property, Owensby says.

Any developer will work under the watchful eye of the Richland-West End Neighborhood Association, which guards against what it perceives as unacceptable redevelopment in the area. Christianson says her firm has already had conversations with members.

When it announced that it had engaged French Christianson Patterson & Associates, the college said the marketing strategy will include hiring a public relations firm “to stimulate interest in the FWBBC campus among prospective buyers.”

Several firms are being considered, but Christianson says she believes that ultimately the firm of McNeely Pigott & Fox will be hired.

Immediate steps for marketing the property will include creating a website and erecting “nice, custom-made” signage along West End, she says.

Free Will Baptist Bible College needs to sell its West End campus before it can move to a 66-acre site it purchased in Gallatin five year ago. Once it sells the West End property, the school would need to remain there for 18 months while it constructs classrooms and other buildings at the new location, Christianson says.

This is the first time the campus on West End has been listed with a real estate firm. Free Will Baptist Bible College has tried to sell the property privately for several years without success. Several other schools had expressed interest but did not purchase the property. The college announced in December 2006 that it had sold the campus to a developer for $16.75 million, but that sale was called off in March 2007.

Free Will Baptist Bible College has sold a small portion of its property, a half-acre site on Richland Avenue, where new residences were located, Christianson says. It also has sold several houses it owned in the neighborhood.

In a prepared statement, the college said the new site in Gallatin is more suitable to its needs.

“The new campus site, located 25 minutes from downtown Nashville, will provide ample parking for future needs, technologically current academic buildings and residence halls, space for athletic programs and energy-efficient buildings,” the statement says.