Lebanon, located in Wilson County along I-40, has three historic residential districts and 44 documented historic properties located within its downtown commercial district. The county seat of Wilson County, Lebanon is a treasure trove of rich architecture and history and has a track record of successful historic preservation. Lebanon is also served by Music City Star Commuter Rail service in its historic core in keeping with its railroad town history. Lebanon and Wilson County are experiencing unprecedented growth and development as part of the Middle Tennessee region, and they serve as a major retail and service hub for adjoining counties. Lebanon’s market demand for new downtown business development and investments has increased with the county’s growth. City and community leaders saw the opportunity to preserve and enhance their historic core to attract new investments, businesses, residents, as well as new heritage tourism revenues.
Tennessee Main Street Designation
In 2013, Historic Lebanon Tomorrow and city leaders built upon their local historic preservation asset to become one of Tennessee’s accredited Main Street communities. Since that time, Historic Lebanon and partners have put in place strategic multi-modal transportation infrastructure, community development and design incentives, downtown promotions and entrepreneur development resources that are producing economic and community impacts.
Multi-modal Transportation and Streetscape Investments
In 2007, Historic Lebanon commissioned a new master plan to guide future infrastructure investments in the downtown core. In 2013, city leaders secured the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s assistance to improve safety and pedestrian access to the downtown square. The Historic Lebanon master plan was used as the basis for the new design. In July of 2015, Lebanon and TDOT leaders celebrated the grand opening of a new traffic pattern around the square and a streetscape project that added sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, underground utilities and placemaking elements such as landscaping and improved lighting. These multi-modal transportation improvements for pedestrians and motor vehicles positioned the community for future investments in downtown buildings and business development.
Façade Improvement Program
As the transportation improvements on the square were being finalized, Historic Lebanon and city leaders focused attention on the rehabilitation of historic buildings on and adjacent to the square. This addressed the need to preserve the character and identity of their community and create viable locations for new downtown businesses and services.
In 2016, Lebanon received a $100,000 TNECD Façade Improvement Grant (FIG) that supported the renovation of 5 downtown buildings and business storefronts. Following their Historic District Guidelines, projects ranged from complete storefront rehabilitation to restoration of exterior finishes and window repair as well as canopy and awning installation and signage. Historic Lebanon leaders administered the project and provided design and construction technical assistance and funding incentives that prepared each building for successful reuse.
These TNECD FIG funded projects catalyzed other private sector investments to adjoining buildings. In addition to the 5 FIG projects, downtown Lebanon saw significant improvements to 18 additional buildings resulting in $5,937,623 of new private and public sector investment in 2017.
In the Spring of 2017, Historic Lebanon completed a Tennessee Main Street funded strategic plan and identified strategic priorities and actions for the next three-year phase of downtown development efforts. Tennessee and National Main Street consultants worked with Historic Lebanon and city leaders. As internal and external economic markets were identified, discussions centered on expansion of existing downtown businesses and the location of new businesses, restaurants and services as the top priority.
Entrepreneur Development was an important strategy identified through the planning process. Historic Lebanon’s Executive Director created a coalition of city officials, Cumberland University faculty and Historic Lebanon board leaders and applied for TNECD’s Main Street Entrepreneur Grant (MEG) funding to locate a new Entrepreneur Center on the square in an underutilized building. In 2017, Historic Lebanon was awarded a $50,000 MEG to establish the Cumberland Ignite Lab with equipment, furnishings and new entrepreneur training through Cumberland University and Pathway Lending’s Women’s Business Center services.
The community response has been positive with local entrepreneurs, business owners and Cumberland students and faculty taking advantage of classes, co-working space and events in the first year of operations. The location of the Cumberland Ignite Lab in an underutilized building and street of the historic downtown has helped to revitalize the surrounding businesses and attract new businesses.
Economic and Community Impact
The Historic Lebanon Main Street District has increased the number of new businesses, events and jobs in response to market demand and realized a 4:1 return on city, state and federally funded downtown investments. Improvements offer greater opportunity for business growth and expansion, and property owners are seeing improved marketability of their property and increased market values. Combined 2017 results include:
|FIG and MEG Building Rehabilitations||5|
|Privately Funded Building Rehabilitations||18|
|Publicly Funded Improvements (Wilson County Veterans Museum, Farmers Market improvements)||2|
|New Downtown Jobs Created||40|
|New Downtown Businesses Created/Expanded (retail, restaurants, hair salon, coffee shops, law and real estate offices, bookstores, co-working spaces, private school campus, chamber of commerce)||20|
|Entrepreneur Classes Offered||1 nine-week session|
|Entrepreneurs and Business Owners Served||10|
|TOTAL DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT FUNDING (Projections for state and federal grant funding, property owners, university and city investments)||$1,901,075|
|FAÇADE IMPROVEMMENT GRANT PROJECTS||$663,075|
|TNECD Façade Improvement Grant||$100,000|
|Property/Business Owner Match||$563,075|
|MEG Building Rehabilitation||$5,900|
|MAIN STREET ENTREPRENEUR GRANT PROJECT||$66,000|
|TNECD Main Street Entrepreneur Grant||$50,000|
|Cumberland University In-kind||$5,000|
|Other local in-kind and cash donations||$11,000|
|STREETSCAPE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECT||$1,200,000|
|TDOT Safety Grant (streets, sidewalks, crosswalks)||$600,000|
|City of Lebanon Match (underground utilities, lighting, landscaping, benches, crosswalks)||$600,000|
|TNECD NATIONAL MAIN STREET CENTER STRATEGIC PLANNING SERVICES||$2,000|