County leaders took a small step on Monday toward preserving the Comer Barn, a historic structure between Hendersonville and Gallatin that was deeded to the county nearly four years ago.
The 8,500 square-feet Tennessee Walking Horse barn built in the 1930’s was deeded to Sumner County by Rogers Group, which operates an adjacent quarry, in March 2016 contingent on several conditions. The county also leases the Comer House next to the barn from Rogers Group for office space for the Sumner County tourism and visitor’s bureau.
During a budget committee meeting on Monday, Chairman Chris Taylor proposed a resolution to hire a consultant to evaluate the aging structure and determine what’s needed to protect it from further deterioration.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about what the barn could be used for. We’ve kind of gotten ahead of ourselves I think,” said Taylor. “What we’re asking for is that the money be used just to put a roof on the barn so it doesn’t fall in.”
State Sen. Ferrell Haile spoke during the Dec. 16 County Commission meeting about a $250,000 state grant that legislators approved to help restore the structure.
Taylor said the grant requires matching funds, but it’s not yet known how much the county will be required to pay in. He requested that the initial funds to hire a consultant come from the county’s hospital fund with the intention of paying that money back once private donations or other grant money is obtained.
Commissioner Moe Taylor said he could support the resolution if lawmakers were guaranteed the deed restrictions would be removed and that the barn is used for something that does not compete with local businesses.
Many have expressed concern about the deed restrictions placed on the barn, including if some conditions aren’t met the structure would revert ownership back to Rogers Group.
County Law Director Leah May Dennen said she expects the terms of the deed to be renegotiated once the county decides what it wants to do with the structure.
“We’ve always heard from Rogers Group if you get a plan, we’ll be happy to seriously consider changing the deed,” she said. “But they want a plan.”
Two studies have been done to determine the barns needs and possible uses. A 2015 study conducted by Centric Architecture determined the space could be used as a seasonal or year-round facility, and needed roof repairs, a sprinkler system and security system, electrical and HVAC upgrades, new windows and doors and the removal of some stalls. Cost estimates ranged from $1.3 million for a seasonal facility to $1.7 million for a year-round facility.
A 2017 economic feasibility study paid for by the county’s tourism board concluded the barn would be best suited as a destination restaurant and entertainment venue or a multi-use event center.
Other ideas like office space for the county’s Election Office have been proposed.
Both Moe Taylor and Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield told committee members on Monday they could support a restoration of the barn as long as the use didn’t compete with local businesses.
Moe Taylor suggested the barn be used for agricultural related activities.
“We don’t necessarily know what we do want to do with it, but we know we need to put a roof on it,” said Chris Taylor.
“Almost everybody we talk to wants it preserved for something,” said 2nd District Commissioner Billy Geminden.
The committee voted in favor of the resolution. It will come before the full County Commission on Jan. 27.