A Lot of Urban Growth, A Lot of Country Charm

By Lee Rennick
Photography Submitted

Ten years ago, Rutherford County had a population of 263,708. Since then, the population has grown almost 35% to 355,199 according to the latest census information. It does not look like growth is going to slow down any time soon, as the area has been experiencing an average of around 2% per year for more than 30 years. The steady growth has also meant prosperity and allowed the county and its cities to weather the storm of the pandemic, as well as other economic downturns that have occurred over the last 20 years. 

Continued Prosperity and Growth

“Murfreesboro ended up having a great financial year,” explained Mayor Shane McFarland. “The Council decided, rightfully so, to budget very conservatively because we didn’t know what would happen during the pandemic. We ended up having an increase in sales tax revenue that more than offset the decline in the hotel/motel tax. We did everything we could to help our businesses and I think that has contributed to a quicker recovery. The growth has continued to trend upward because of several different factors, [including] people…leaving the east coast and west coast and moving to places like Tennessee and Texas.” 

Smyrna, LaVergne and Eagleville are also seeing growth and development. “Smyrna's growth is tied to the growth in the region,” said Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed, “but the Town Council and our personnel work to provide cultural, recreational and educational opportunities to maintain a quality of life for our residents that attracts industry, small businesses and population growth.” 

While the cities are all seeing unprecedented growth, with Murfreesboro being ranked somewhere between the fastest to fourth fastest growing city in the country depending on who is doing the study, they all work hard to keep a small town feel with community activities and a focus on their original downtowns as their hearts. Go to any of the major events in any of Rutherford County’s towns and you will see the mayors and the various council representatives present. 

More Capital Investment

In spite of the pandemic, there has been considerable capital investment in Rutherford County with more on the table. According to Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce President Paul Latture, the number one investment is by Nissan as they invest further in Electric Vehicles (EVs). They will be building a $1.6 billion lithium battery plant in Smyrna to support the manufacture of the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf led the way in the development of electric cars in 2013. Smyrna will also receive part of another $170 million dollars that Nissan will be spending to update plants in Smyrna and Canton, Mississippi. By 2030, the manufacturer plans to have 30 new EVs on five platforms according to reuters.com.

“This investment will have the largest effect on the local economy over the next five to 10 years,” said Latture.

Latture also discussed how Rutherford County is becoming a regional medical hub, drawing people from Bedford, Cannon, Coffee and other counties south and east who do not want to drive into Nashville for medical services. Ascension St. Thomas Rutherford, Murfreesboro Medical Clinic, StoneCrest and Vanderbilt are all continuing to invest in the county, but there are three major investments on the horizon.

The biggest news in medical care in the county is that Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital will become a Level II trauma center in 2024, joining Tri-Star Skyline Hospital in Nashville and Bristol Regional Medical Center as only the third in Tennessee. Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the only Level I trauma center in the area. This upgrade will insure Rutherford County residents and those who use the county as a regional medical facility, will have an increased level of emergency services and better traumatic outcomes. Where Saint Thomas Rutherford has had to depend on transfer agreements to get the severely injured to hospitals with the capabilities to treat them, with the new designation and increased resources there will not only be less transfers to other hospitals, but smaller regional hospitals in Cannon, Bedford and other outlying counties will be able to have their severely injured sent to Saint Thomas Rutherford, instead of having to transport them all the way to Nashville. 

The new Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford – Westlawn will be the first neighborhood hospital in Tennessee. Even with the new floor added to the Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital on Medical Center Parkway, growth is filling the now 416 beds. The new hospital near Veteran’s Parkway and Shores Road will be a 32,000-square foot, two-story building providing eight private inpatient medical beds, eight emergency treatment rooms, laboratory services, imaging modalities, outpatient services and telemedicine. There will also be medical practice offices onsite. 

Although initially denied by the state, Vanderbilt was approved in December 2021 to build a 42-bed, $144-million hospital off of Veteran’s Parkway at 1-840. It will provide services that current residents in the county have to drive to Nashville to receive. The new hospital will be a full-service community hospital with emergency services, obstetrics, surgical capabilities, cardiac catheterization services, and it will bring additional ICU capacity to the community. They already offer extensive children’s services in Rutherford County through Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt at in two locations in Murfreesboro. 
Downtown Murfreesboro will see a significant change soon. “It is my understanding that [One College East has] finalized the financing and is getting ready to start the entire project,” said Mayor McFarland. “It will be a long time coming. I think anything that we can do to improve and bring more activity downtown benefits our small business owners and the overall downtown community. Activity breds activity.”

One East College is the $75 million, one city-block sized development to be built on the corner of East College and Church Street. The old First United Methodist Church building, that was built in the 1800s, will be worked into the plan, either as a restaurant or an event venue in the mixed-use development that will include apartments, condominiums, retail, office space and a parking garage.

Development Leads to Road Improvements

“With the new announcement of the Legacy Sports Development,” added Mayor McFarland, “we will work with the state to greatly improve Broad Street from 840 to Thompson Lane and the 840 Interchange. This also helps push forward the Cherry Lane interchange and extension from Broad Street to 231 North. We also have planned several road improvements and bridges that will link the west side of town better to the interstate and interchanges. We are also committed to getting the land swap with [Middle Tennessee Electric] completed and starting West Park.”

In Smyrna, the Sam Ridley widening project is the result of the corridor study the Town performed along SR266 in 2016. The overall project includes improvements to the StoneCrest/Sam Ridley Parkway intersection, the extension of Potomac Place and relocation of a traffic signal from Chaney to Potomac, the widening of Sam Ridley from four to six lanes and improvements to the intersection of Sam Ridley and Old Nashville Highway.

These improvements to the roads are just a part of plans to improve access and traffic flow as business grows and the population increases.

Focus on Helping Small Business Grow

While there are many other projects in the works for new businesses moving to Rutherford County and expansions of many corporations already here, the county’s backbone is small business. With the building of One Church Street, there will be more emphasis on downtown Murfreesboro and new announcement on the development of The Bottoms, which contains Cannonsburgh Village, will come in the next few months. A plan to create an arts and entertainment area with housing and a shopping in that area was part of a plan for the area created in 2015. 

“We can’t just focus on new businesses,” said Mayor McFarland. “We have to remember what has made Murfreesboro successful and there are lots of small businesses that have contributed to that success.”

Smyrna is putting emphasis on The Depot District, which is the heart of Smyrna and symbolizes the sense of community that is so important to the Mayor and Town Council. 

“Smyrna Parks and Recreation celebrated the grand opening of Zama Park, a pocket park that represents the connection between Smyrna and [Sister City] Zama City, Japan,” explained Mayor Reed. “We continue to work to improve access to the area for our residents with the Washington Street Pedestrian Crossing in partnership with CSX and the multi-modal improvements along South Lowry. This area is attractive to small business and residential development as evidenced by the opening of establishments such as Red Bicycle and a new 308-unit apartment complex called Alta Depot.”

More on the Horizon

All of this growth and development includes investment in more infrastructure, schools and quality of life elements like parks and recreation. Smyrna is working on increased sewer capacity to insure needed services are there to support the growth. There are already plans for more new schools. And additional investment in parks and recreation facilities, including a new tennis center on the Middle Tennessee State University campus. LaVergne and Eagleville continue to see growth, with additional housing and new businesses continuing to open. 

“Our community has been very fortunate and resilient,” added Mayor Reed, “and continues to grow. We just want to make sure we keep that hometown feel while doing that.”

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