Berea City Council members gave mixed responses Tuesday to the city’s proposed purchase of the Mitchell Tolle Gallery building on Chestnut Street.
During a council work session, the council members debated the merits of purchasing the building along with an adjacent corner lot that once was home to a car dealership.
Tolle is asking more than $1.08 million for both properties.
City Administrator Randy Stone revealed that Tolle and the city differ in their estimates of the property’s value. Tolle had it appraised at $1,230,000, while the city’s appraisal came in at $960,000.
Council members Vi Farmer and Diane Kerby expressed a strong interest in buying the Tolle property, noting it is located at a crucial gateway into Berea. Kerby said she envisions various uses for the property, including a visitor’s center and or gallery space.
But council member Jerry Little voiced reservations about the purchase, noting that the city is already preparing to enter a lease agreement to use the Hays building on Chestnut Street as a possible location for the Berea Artist Accelerator program that would support five emerging artists.
Council member Ronnie Terrill also spoke against the purchase.
“I definitely don’t think the city needs to be buying more property,” he said.
Berea Tourism Commission member Charles Arnold pointed out that city tourism has already invested heavily in buildings around town, including the $700,000 renovation of the Berea Train Depot as well as other investments in Old Town.
“I can’t see that we need another building,” Arnold said. “Even if you want it, how are you going to afford it?”
Stone said he initially was against purchasing the Tolle property. The more he looked at the possibilities of the space, however, the more he realized it could be a very positive investment, the city administrator said.
Because of its location, Stone said he fears not purchasing the property would be a “missed opportunity.”
Council member Chester Powell expressed his doubts, noting that the city already has poured significant amounts of money into tourism projects such Old Town with mixed results.
“I don’t see how we can keep putting a saddle on a dead horse,” Powell said.
Tolle said he is firm on the asking price, noting that a fast-food restaurant company in Tennessee has expressed strong interest in the properties.
Tourism Commission member Bob Stewart then asked whether the city would be open to what he called “some creative financing.” Kerby said that was an option that should be explored.
The meeting concluded with the issue still unresolved, although tourism commission members said they would meet soon to discuss the deal further.
For his part, Tolle said he could wait a week for a decision from the city and the Tourism Commission before seeking a Realtor to sell the property.