The Maury County Commission is pursuing the purchase of the former office and production center of The Daily Herald in Columbia with a plan to transform the building into a second downtown courthouse.
Negotiations are underway for the sale.
During Tuesday’s administration committee meeting, Maury County Commission chair Don Morrow proposed the purchase of the 16,605 square-foot building, which sits on about three acres of land at 1115 South Main St. He said the site would provide a means for the county to expand the footprint of its court system while remaining near the center of Columbia.
The committee voted unanimously in favor of moving forward with the proposal.
“If we let this get away I think we make a huge mistake,” Morrow told members of the committee. “With the 7% growth rate we are facing, we are going to be at 100,000 people this year. When you start doing the math, this county is going to start having a lot of people in it.”
Morrow said the court’s partial move to the building probably will alleviate parking issues on the courthouse square and provide a structure that could easily be made compliant with the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
If purchased, the renovation will include the repair of the building’s roof estimated to cost the county between $158,000 and $250,000.
“There is no property closer than this that is going to be that size,” Morrow said. “This county is going to have a lot of people in it and they are coming fast and our problems are not getting any better — they are not getting worse on the square. If we let this get away, I think we are making a huge mistake.”
Consideration follows April sale
In late April, the building where the newspaper had operated since the 1960s was sold to Culleoka native, local broker and auctioneer Larry Hubbell for $725,000.
The building’s inactive printing press has been removed, and some renovations have been made on the building’s exterior.
Hubbell, who initially envisioned the building serving as office space, possibly for his own family businesses and others, confirmed he is now in negations with Morrow for the sale of the building.
Records from the Maury County Property Accessors Office show Hubbell also purchased an adjoining property addressed 1104 Woodland St., on May 4. He purchased the land and the home located on it for $100,000 from owner Connie Poling.
“I bought The Daily Herald Building for a long term investment and have since added an adjoining parcel making a total of 3.17 acers,” Hubbell said. “I have been approached by Maury County Government to purchase the property. I can confirm that it is in the negotiation stage at this time.”
Morrow said the the process will soon come to a close “one way or the other.”
“This will be put to rest by next Tuesday night at the budget session,” Morrow said.
The chairman said the building probably could be purchased for less than $2 million.
Maury County Budget Committee chair Scott Sumners said the building could be purchased using funds from the county’s litigation tax, and the same fund could be used to finance the building’s renovation and transition to a court building, which is estimated to cost $10 million.
If purchased, the county would build out a sally port entrance to transport inmates to and from the building.
The proposal will continue to be reviewed by the county commission at upcoming meetings.
Circuit Court Judge Christopher Sockwell said the building would fulfill the court system’s need for a second full-sized courtroom.
“We have a desperate need for two courtrooms to be operational at the same time,” Sockwell said. ” A space like that will take a load off the court.”
Sockwell said the new building would provide added space as the court continues to manage a steady increase in the total number of criminal cases.
Maury County owner advocate Steve Hewett recently inspected the property on behalf of the local government.
“When Sam Kennedy built that thing, they did it right,” Hewlett said. “I could not see any signs of long-term stress on a building that age. The price that I am hearing so far, it is a real deal for you all to be able to acquire that property.”
Kennedy, a renowned Tennessee lawyer, nationally recognized champion of open government and free press and award-winning journalist, served as publisher for more than 30 years. He was instrumental in writing the state’s Sunshine Law and helped local businesses through the newspaper’s advertising campaigns.
Kennedy inherited the role after the death of his father-in-law, John Finney, who owned the paper with the Hastings family.
During his tenure, Kennedy moved the newspaper’s office from downtown Columbia to the South Main Street location in 1968.
The Daily Herald was then sold by the family to Donrey Media Group on July 15, 1983, and again in 1993 to Stephens Media before its 2015 acquisition by GateHouse Media.
In 2019, GateHouse acquired Gannett, publishers of USA Today, The Tennessean and Murfreesboro’s Daily News Journal, leading to the creation of the largest print media company in the country with a circulation of more than 250 newspapers across the nation.
A ‘sound’ pursuit
Ronnie Bates, the county’s building maintenance director, also shared his approval of the county’s pursuit of the property.
“It is a very sound unit,” Bates said. “I like the building. One story is a big plus — we spend a lot of money on elevators and this kind of stuff. I think it will be a great buy for us.”
In recent years, the Maury County Commission has considered building a new justice center as well as considered a 2015 proposal by former County Mayor Joey Norman to move the county’s offices to the Columbia Mall as it stood nearly vacant.
The commission also has considered needed repairs and improvements to the historic Maury County Courthouse.
Eric Previti, who spearhead the construction of a new General Sessions Court Part II in Mt. Pleasant, spoke in approval of the building’s purchase.
“Every attempt to buy something, try to draw something and build something has failed repeatedly over the decades,” Previti said. “Here is an opportunity that I think we should thoroughly investigate, the possibility of this happening. This is as close as we are going to get to a very viable solution.”