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VOL. 37 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 27, 2013

No longer a one-horse town

Spring Hill’s fortunes used to ebb and flow with GM’s production decisions. No more.

By Bill Lewis

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Fifth-grade teacher Carolyn Allen and her friends attend Zumba classes in the building that once was a gymnasium for workers at the nearby General Motors Saturn Division plant. Not far away, the automaker’s former headquarters now houses a call center and an incubator for start-up businesses.

In those ways and others, Spring Hill, the town that GM built, has reinvented itself.

No longer a company town, the city has become a thriving retail and residential center where most of the 31,000 residents have no direct association with the automaker. A growing number, in fact, arrived after Saturn ceased production and GM temporarily idled the factory in 2007.

“It does seem that Spring Hill has been resilient,” says Allen, who moved from nearby Thompson’s Station in 2006.

Allen and her husband, Ronnie Sowell, purchased a house in Belshire, one of the fast-growing subdivisions in Spring Hill and its neighboring communities that are home to commuters who travel I-65 to Nashville or to jobs in neighboring counties. Sowell’s employer is in Maury County. Spring Hill straddles the Williamson-Maury county line.

Allen’s friends and neighbors arrived from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and California. A few came to work for GM, but others were attracted by the quality of life and low cost of living in southern Middle Tennessee.

“This place,” she says. “it’s magical.”

GM is betting on the magic. The company announced in August that it would bring 1,800 additional jobs to the assembly plant and adding an additional $167 million for two new projects, both expected to be mid-size vehicles.

“General Motors is a driver” of the area’s economy, “but not the only one,” says David McGowan, president of Regent Homes.

Population growth

As GM went through its changes, Spring Hill and the surrounding area continued to grow. Even before the company announced its 1,800 additional jobs, Spring Hill city officials were already making plans to hold a special census.

They believe the population has grown by a couple of thousand residents, to 31,000, since the last full census in 2010. If that is confirmed, the city will receive an additional $200,000 in taxes it shares with the state.

That cash would be welcome in a city that has recently built new elementary, middle and high schools to keep up with growth, says City Administrator Victor Lay.

Homeowners looking for good values are pushing growth south along Interstate 65 from Brentwood and Franklin, he says.

“Folks can have the same home for a little bit less money,” Lay says.

Commercial growth has kept pace with the region’s population. Major retailers including Kohl’s and Target have stores in Spring Hill. Maury Regional Medical Center and HCA have health care facilities there. A Super Walmart will open soon. Mars Petcare is building an $87 million innovation center in Thompson’s Station.

The area has become “a miniature Cool Springs,” says Peder Jensen, director of sales for the Jones Co.

More affordable homes

Many Spring Hill residents are families or downsizers looking for home prices that are more affordable than Franklin or Brentwood to the north, closer to Nashville.

“Take a $450,000 house in Franklin,” says Tony James with the Jones Co., the company that built Allen’s house. “You can get that same house for $350,000. Franklin is congested and there’s not much developable land. People are having to go south.”

That’s what Art and Susan Mann did when they moved from Florida to be closer to their grandchildren in Franklin. The Manns decided not to return to Brentwood, where they once owned a house.

“For the value, you couldn’t beat Spring Hill,” said Susan Mann.

New construction is being carved out of farm fields in many areas around Spring Hill as builders struggle to keep up with demand for single-family housing and, now, apartments.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

When they moved away in the late 1990s, Spring Hill was only a fraction of its current size.

“There wasn’t much out here,” says Art Mann. “Now, Spring Hill has so much more to offer, a country setting and people are able to get more house for the money.”

The Manns’ home in the Wade’s Grove subdivision was built by John Maher Builders. John Maher, the company’s owner, says Spring Hill is attracting home owners who have no association with the General Motors factory.

“Once they get here, they don’t want to leave,” says Maher, who is building in the Wade’s Grove, Spring Hill Place and Benevento subdivisions in Spring Hill and the Bridgemore Village subdivision in Thompson’s Station. Home prices range from the low $200,000s to $500,000.

Most of the seven houses Maher builds each month are sold before they are finished. He expects demand for new homes to grow.

“That sixth sense you have, it feels good. I’m getting hit from every side by positive signs,” he adds.

Other builders also are swinging hammers as fast as they can. Ole South has built more than 1,000 homes in Spring Hill since 2001, says Trey Lewis, vice president of sales and marketing.

The company is building homes on both the Williamson County and Maury County sides of Spring Hill. Starting prices range from the low $100,000s to the mid-$200,000s, well below the price range in much of Williamson County.

The average home price in Williamson County was $414,588 in August, according to a market survey by Chandler Reports. In Spring Hill, the average price was $268,861. In Thompson’s Station, the small town next door, the average price was $296,714.

Spring Hill’s popularity is easy to understand, Lewis says.

“It’s the quality of life,” he says. “And Spring Hill is one of the last sections of Williamson County with affordable prices.”

Luxury apartment living

It’s no surprise to find subdivisions filled with single-family homes in the suburbs. But Spring Hill also is attracting a more urban type of housing – luxury apartments.

An Ohio company, Gross Builders, recently opened Worthington Glen, with amenities including a business meeting room, a social room with a game system and an outdoor television area. Rents range from $810 to more than $1,100.

Gross Builders has two additional apartment communities in Spring Hill. They appeal to young professionals, downsizers and others who want a lock-and-go lifestyle without the burden of lawn care and home maintenance.

“The convenience of apartment home living certainly has helped provide the surge ahead to the growth of the (apartment) lifestyle segment,” says Kris Kutz, the company’s marketing director.

Spring Hill isn’t the only community growing in southern Williamson County.

Jamie Herrington, the youth hockey director for the NHL’s Nashville Predators, commutes to downtown Nashville every day from Berry Farms, a new mixed use development near Spring Hill. He and wife Brianne and their two children have lived there for six months and were among the development’s first residents.

“It’s been happening very quickly,” Herrington says. “There are people living across from us now. There was nothing there when we moved in.”

The Herringtons purchased their new home from Regent Homes, one of four builders active in Berry Farms.

Herrington, who keeps early work hours and is usually driving home from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena during morning rush hour, sees proof of the area’s rapid growth on I-65.

“There’s usually a significant lineup of cars” heading toward Nashville, he says.

Traffic should flow smoother as the state continues to widen I-65, and life in Berry Farms will become increasingly convenient as banks, retailers, and restaurants open their doors, says Herrington.

“We’re excited about where we are,” he adds.

He’s not alone. Bob and Robin Moreo looked in Franklin before arriving in Stream Valley, a community that will eventually have up to 800 homes. It is about a mile from Berry Farms. Robin works just minutes away at Nissan’s Cool Springs headquarters. Bob commutes to downtown Nashville.

“It’s a good spot for getting places,” Bob Moreo says.

Their neighbors, Phil and Amy Williams commute to LaVergne, in Rutherford County, on State Route 840. The interstate-quality highway links southern Williamson County with employment centers in Rutherford and Wilson counties.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Phil Williams says.

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