Nearly $7M in improvements proposed for Rippavilla

Nearly $7 million worth of improvements were proposed this week for the Rippavilla Plantation as part of the site's master plan, a design document for the property's future that has been in the works for months.

Additionally, this week's meeting of the Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen also saw a proposal from the Battle of Franklin Trust to manage the site reviewed by city leaders.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Rippavilla Plantation is one of Spring Hill’s oldest and most iconic landmarks, having been constructed in 1855. The site had been managed by Rippavilla Inc. since 2007, supported financially by General Motors with an annual budget of $100,000. After that support appeared to be coming to a close, Rippavilla Inc. successfully offered the city of Spring Hill to purchase the site.

The city continued funding Rippavilla Inc. with $100,000 annually in the hopes of the site eventually becoming financially self-sustaining. Earlier this year, when the idea of a self-sustaining Rippavilla was brought into question, city leaders voted to terminate its relationship with Rippavilla Inc., sending out a Request for Proposal in the hopes of finding a new property manager.

During an April 5 BOMA work session, the design firm that's partnered with the city on the Rippavilla master plan, Tuck-Hinton Architecture & Design, outlined a series of proposed improvements to the site. Present during the meeting were Tuck-Hinton representatives Mary Roskilly and Ed Henley, who provided a summary of the 71-page master plan.

"One of the things that we wanted to focus on is the identity of Rippavilla, and of course the people, the plan of how that facility is ran, we took a deep dive into that and we found there had been struggles from a financial perspective," Henley said.

"But what we did find is that the core message, the core spirit of Rippavilla is strong, which is something that stands out and I think is something great to build on."

The improvements outlined were broken down into three zones on the 98-acre site: zone one containing the plantation itself as well as the surrounding area, zone two being the crop fields and zone three being the back of the property which contains the enslaved people's cabins.

For the first zone, the representatives proposed the construction of a new interpretive center next to the existing stock barn, itself next to the plantation. At an estimated cost of $3.8 million, this proposal would make up the bulk of the entire costs. The representatives also proposed a slew of expanded program offerings, which include creating support staff positions, boosting programming and putting in place signage and a live beacon system.

The second zone saw perhaps the least amount of proposed improvements, but included things like improving accessibility to the other portions of the site through improved walkways and paths, expanded use for public events such as hayrides and berry picking and the construction of a corn maze.

The third zone saw representatives propose further restoration of the enslaved people's cabin, expanded use of the Mule Barn for events and continued improvements to paved trails and paths.

The final estimated cost for all the improvements and additions came out to $6.9 million.


Battle of Franklin Trust submits bid to manage property

During that same meeting, city leaders also reviewed a letter from the Battle of Franklin Trust, proposing they would be best equipped to manage the historic site. A nonprofit organization, the Battle of Franklin Trust was created in 2009 to manage the Carter House and Carnton in Franklin.

In the letter, the Battle of Franklin Trust points to the success they've seen in managing the aforementioned two historic sites, writing that in the year following their acquisition of the Carter House, attendance roughly doubled from 20,000 to 40,000. Revenue also increased from tour tickets from $600,000 to $1.1 million annually. 

Perhaps most importantly, those two properties had become not only self-sustaining, but the Battle of Franklin Trust had actually become profitable since its inception.

"We hope to be able to elevate Rippavilla and make it a place where countless people can learn about the events of late November 1864, but also why the American Civil War remains relevant and why history belongs to all of us," wrote Eric Jacobson, chief executive officer of the Battle of Franklin Trust.

City leaders are likely to vote on the Battle of Franklin Trust's bid during their next voting meeting on April 19.

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