Commentary by Chris Smith, editor-in-chief of Clarksville Now.
When people look back at 2022 in Clarksville, what will they see as the pivotal points, the biggest controversies, the events that went on to shape this community’s future? It’s time to click through the Clarksville Now archives for the last 12 months and try to make sense of the year that was.
Here are the 10 stories that had the biggest impact on Clarksville in 2022, or are likely to have a big impact in the years to come:
Table of Contents
1. LG Chem EV plant coming to Clarksville
Maybe Clarksville is still gun-shy from the debacle that was the Hemlock Semiconductor closure in 2014, or maybe we’re still in a post-COVID funk. Either way, not enough people seem to appreciate the enormity of what just happened with the LG Chem announcement in November that it will build an electric vehicle battery plant here. While Hemlock was a $1.2 billion announcement with 500 workers, LG Chem is planning a $3.2 billion plant with 820 workers. Three. Point. Two. Billion. Hemlock promised some good chemical engineering jobs, but the LG Chem is planning for 200 of those jobs to pay over $100,000 a year. Yes, 200 six-figure jobs.
That will be a game-changer for Clarksville, which has been seeking more high-wage jobs for decades. And with pay in those ranges, other companies will likely be compelled to raise their wages in order to stay competitive. Higher wages bring more expendable income, too, raising the tax base and helping the local economy thrive. There’s always been a risk that Clarksville might grow in population but not in income levels. LG Chem could be the shot in the arm that keeps that from happening.
2. Getting under a roof goes through the roof
In January, Clarksville was ranked the No. 1 hottest housing market in the country by the online real estate company Opendoor.com. That was just a signal of what was to come.
Rapid population growth combined with a lack of available housing had a big impact on Clarksville home prices and rental costs in 2022. In October, the median home price in Montgomery County peaked at around $325,000. That has since dropped, but not by much.
Our median home price has increased about 62% since 2019:
- December 2019: $200,000
- December 2020: $223,000
- December 2021: $270,000
- December 2022: $316,000
The median rental price in Montgomery County rose as well, and it now stands at about $1,500 per month in Montgomery County.
Real estate experts have repeatedly said that in order to meet the rising demand, Clarksville needs more available housing and rental units – meaning more approval of housing developments and apartment complexes.
3. F&M Bank arena, parking garage, Doubletree by Hilton
2022 was a year of construction on the F&M Bank Arena downtown, and that work is all but finished – on the outside at least – down to the sidewalks, landscaping and exterior lights. The keys to the arena should be handed over to the operator, Sabretooth Sports and Entertainment, and the primary tenant, Austin Peay State University basketball, in the next couple of weeks. Next comes the finishing out of the interior and moving into the facility. The first events are planned for July.
The arena is a 250,000-square-foot facility. The main arena will have seating capacity for up to 6,000 people in a flexible space for hockey, basketball, concerts, trade shows and other events. A second large space will be a Ford Ice Center, similar to those in Bellevue and Antioch, offering a community ice sheet for skating, hockey and learn-to-skate programs.
Unfortunately, work on the parking garage for the arena hasn’t gone as quickly this year, or as cheaply as expected. When the county was given a $14 million grant from the state in May to pay for the garage, then-County Mayor Jim Durrett said that should cover the cost. But seven months later, those costs rose dramatically, in part because of unanticipated foundation costs. In December, the County Commission approved pitching in a matching $14 million. The 724-space parking garage will serve the arena on one side, the planned Riverview Square retail center on another, and the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel on the other. That last project is a renovation of the Riverview Inn, owned by the Hand family, which donated land to the county for the parking garage project. It’s now scheduled to be finished by the end of 2023, about six months after the arena opens.
Across College Street from the arena, the three-story, three-restaurant Shelby’s Trio is almost finished. The first floor will be Joe’s Garage, which will feature displays of classic muscle cars and Americana food. On the second floor you’ll find Trattoria di Cat with fine Italian dining. The third floor will be the Skyline 500 rooftop bar. Owners Joe and Cathi Maynard are hoping to open in February.
4. Sidewalks at schools trump downtown parking
For years, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System provided more bus service than required by state law, busing kids who lived fairly close to the schools even though they were in reasonable walking distance. But all that changed with the 2022-23 school year. Because of a critical shortage of bus drivers, CMCSS announced in May they were expanding the PRZ, or “parental responsibility zone.” The PRZ would be increased by half a mile: to 1 mile for elementary students and 1 1/2 miles for middle and high school students. Students in that zone would need to walk, bike or get a ride from their parents.
The announcement was met with immediate objections, primarily because of a lack of sidewalks around schools. In some cases, as highlighted in a Clarksville Now investigative report, it would be physically impossible for children to walk to school without walking directly on busy two-lane roads.
Meanwhile, Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts was pushing for the City Council to include $6 million in the budget for a parking deck to address the critical need for parking downtown. Amid the community demand that government leaders address the problem, the council voted in June to redirect that $6 million to instead use it to address sidewalk needs for families living near schools.
The dangerous situation for students came to head during the first week of school when a student was hit by a car in front of Clarksville High School.
For the next several months, city planners and CMCSS officials worked to identify “barriers to access” near the schools, and what they found was eye-popping. In many cases, sidewalks were needed to connect school campuses to large neighborhoods that were built directly next door. In November, they announced 13 projects for sidewalk improvements, projected to cost $5.2 million. Construction will take place between March 2023 and October 2023.
5. 101st Airborne deploys to Ukraine
War in the Ukraine drew attention in Clarksville from the beginning, with efforts to support the nation locally ranging from filling supply buckets to hoisting the Ukrainian flag. But anyone who’s lived here for more than 10 minutes knows the main way our area gets involved in military threats: In May, it was announced that elements of the 101st Airborne Division would be going to Europe to support the NATO response to Russia’s invasion.
By August, 500 soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division Headquarters were in place in Romania, along with approximately 4,200 soldiers with the 101st’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Their mission was to reinforce NATOs eastern flank and reassure partners across the European continent. “Our deployment to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia represents the ironclad commitment of the United States to our NATO Allies,” stated Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commander of the 101st Airborne, during the uncasing ceremony in Romania.
6. Killebrew coming to rural Kirkwood
Montgomery County is unusual in Tennessee for having only one urban center: Clarksville. But that may be about to change. In April, the Planning Commission approved a plan for what’s being called The Killebrew, a 307-acre, 1,378-unit, mixed-use development in the Rossview area.
The property is on Rossview Road, just south of Kirkwood Road and next to the Kirkwood school campus. The project has been presented as a fully walkable, live-work-play community with housing, retail, education and entertainment. According to the master plan, the project will include six districts: two high-density residential districts, two single-family residential districts, a “Main Street District” and a riverfront camp and recreation preserve. Clarksville Christian School also announced plans to build a new campus within the development.
Many surrounding neighbors were upset about the plan, one calling it a “utopian mixed-use community based on the crowded Atlanta suburbs or the areas around Disney World.” Meanwhile, a planned widening of Rossview Road would be taking out a small but significant portion of the popular McCraw strawberry farm, and many residents have blamed the Killebrew project for the road design that led to the incursion on the McCraw property.
In May, the Montgomery County Commission cleared the way for Killebrew, approving rezoning for the development. Agents have said the project will be completed in several phases and will take 15 to 20 years to be fully complete.
7. Kirkwood campus opens, new school director hired
The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System had a big year of changes, featuring new schools and a new schools director.
The three-school Kirkwood campus kicked off with the opening of Kirkwood Middle. Adding the school of course required a rezoning, pulling students to Kirkwood from the Northeast and Rossview zones. That zoning will be the same for Kirkwood High when it opens in August 2023. Kirkwood Elementary will open in 2024. All are designed to relieve overcrowding in the northeast area of the county, which is seeing rapid growth with more growth projected.
That’s far from meeting the county’s anticipated needs. In fact, it’s really only catching up. To prepare for ongoing growth, seven new school buildings are in the works. Through the year 2039, and in addition to the Kirkwood campus, the school system is anticipating building five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.
The woman who will be leading us into that future is one of our own, in a way. In May, the CMCSS School Board selected the next schools director, Jean Luna-Vedder, who was chief of student readiness with the Tennessee Department of Education. Prior to that, she was with the district for 12 years. She was CMCSS’ director of high schools and also has experience as a principal, assistant principal and teacher.
8. Juvenile crime boils into outrage
Rumblings have been going on for years that Montgomery County needs its own juvenile resouce center – which some have called a “detention” or “justice” center – and those rumblings boiled over into outrage during 2022. In October, Clarksville Police Chief David Crockarell voiced frustration that his officers had to babysit two juvenile carjacking suspects overnight on the concrete floor of the CPD offices while they awaited a hearing. The next month, the chief noted two of his officers had to be taken off normal duties to transport a 15-year-old shooting suspect to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center in Murfreesboro.
Crockarell pointed to the need for a juvenile resource center, which has been proposed for a few years now, and gained momentum during the August county elections. For years, Montgomery County has contracted with the Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia, 90 miles south of Clarksville. Officials said that due to an increase in the severity of juvenile crimes, contracts for Columbia have been expanded to Rutherford County and as far away as Putnam County.
A push for such a facility is now part of the Montgomery County legislative agenda, with county officials pushing the state to approve and help fund a center that would both hold detained juveniles awaiting court dates and provide programs to help juveniles at risk of criminal activity.
9. Charter schools fail first test
A statewide effort to expand charter schools to cities across Tennessee, supported by Gov. Bill Lee, failed its first test, in part because of opposition in Clarksville. American Classical Academy Montgomery in Clarksville was one of three charter schools statewide that were sponsored by American Classical Education. The other schools were proposed in Murfreesboro (Rutherford County) and Jackson (Madison County).
Surrounding public hearings in all three cities in September, opponents pointed to comments insulting public school teachers made by the president of Hillsdale College, which is backing the American Classical Education charter schools. In Montgomery County, the School Board members said the comments, while insulting, didn’t influence their decision to reject the ACAM application. They cited, among other matters, governance problems, 19 requested waivers of state laws, and flaws or gaps in operational plans.
ACAM had a chance for a state appeal hearing, but they withdrew their application, saying they needed more time to prepare and hinted that they will try again in 2023.
10. Wings of Liberty Museum takes nest
After 30 years of promises and planning, and now a $20 million grant from the state, the Wings of Liberty Museum is within sight of groundbreaking. Plans for the museum released in May propose a 75,000-square-foot facility on a 35-acre site on Fort Campbell Boulevard at Tiny Town Road. The museum will feature a main exhibit hall, a multi-use auditorium called Sky Hall, a gift shop, parade grounds and a memorial building. A D-Day glider will be in the lobby, with 10 large aircraft on display outside and smaller aircraft and vehicles inside.
The museum, which would be a national destination, could bring a lot of change to the economy and quality of life in north Clarksville. One study anticipated about 350,000 visitors a year just for the museum. Similar museums in other cities have drawn hotels, restaurants, shops and convention centers nearby. Construction could begin in about March 2023, with an opening by the spring of 2025.
But don’t forget …
Here are 9 more key stories from 2022:
- Lincoln Homes to be demolished, rebuilt on-site at triple capacity: The public housing development near the heart of downtown is set to be demolished and rebuilt.
- Liquor by the drink in Montgomery County approved in referendum vote: The referendum allows restaurants outside the city limits to sell alcohol, promising growth in the options outside Clarksville’s city limits.
- Wes Golden elected county mayor: The city official defeated longtime politician Wallace Redd in a Republican Primary, and then developer Jo Ellen O’Connor in the general election, to replace the retiring Jim Durrett as county mayor.
- Eagle’s View neighbors apprehensive about Spring Creek Parkway/Northeast Connector: They were surprised to learn about the parkway planned behind their homes, with some losing property to eminent domain. But property plats show the road has been planned for years.
- Little-known SS Clarksville Victory ship from World War II returns: This bit of local history is returning to town, to join a mystery piece that’s been hiding in the Customs House collection.
- Glenellen Elementary principal ‘violently assaulted’ by parent during meeting: The parent was arrested the day after the incident, which was caught on video.
- 94 cats taken from Cats Are Us by county Animal Control: Montgomery County Animal Control said many of the cats were ill or in states of distress, and in need of medical attention.
- Blippi event shuts down traffic: Parents and their toddler-age fans of the popular YouTuber tied up all routes for hours trying to get to the Wilma Rudolph Event Center for the appearance.
- Corpse flower blooms with rancid stench: The rare bloom at Austin Peay State University provided visitors the distinct odor of rotted meat.
Here are the community leaders Clarksville lost during 2022:
- Anna Doherty, manager of Loaves & Fishes for 38 years
- Dr. ‘Mac’ Edington, dentist and community leader
- LM Ellis Jr., first Black basketball player in Ohio Valley Conference
- Wendell H. Gilbert, retired brigadier general, state and community leader
- Wayne Hall, owner of Hilltop Supermarket
- Wayne Harrison, former City Council member
- Ann Marshbanks, co-founder of Dream Factory and Camp Rainbow
- Johnny Miller, former APSU athletic director, CHS coach, Clarksville Academy headmaster
- David Riggins, longtime Planning Commission director
- Don Scott, who brought Don’s Donuts to Clarksville
- Khandra Smalley, community and business leader
- Kenny York, founder of Manna Cafe ministry to the homeless
Chris Smith is editor-in-chief of ClarksvilleNow.com. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 931-648-7720.
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Chris Smith is editor-in-chief of ClarksvilleNow.com. Reach him by email at email@example.com or call 931-648-7720.