COTTONTOWN, Tenn. (WKRN) — Hidden behind a few trees Tuesday morning were a couple of Cottontowners stopping a demolition.

“We’re not just going to lay down and let you come in and bulldoze our city,” said Erica Brister.

This all began last Tuesday, Sept. 27, when Brister took a drive.

“I was driving down (Highway) 25 and all of a sudden I saw a bulldozer with its bucket headfirst into the Cottontown Community Center,” she said.

Hours later the center was gone, but the bulldozer was not.

“That’s when I discovered there was a bulldozer going around Cottontown and we needed to follow it and where is that bulldozer going,” she said.

Its next stop was the town’s general store.

But once Brister and her husband J.K. learned the home and the old post office across the street were next, they knew they had to do something.

“I canceled everything that I had going on today and of course came down here and called as many people as I knew,” she said. “[I] was so grateful that the bulldozer had not made it to this little home.”

“No one knew,” said J.K. “No one in Cottontown knew.”

The Bristers say they wanted to buy these buildings, create a nonprofit and work to restore them but were never given the chance.

“This is not just about these historic buildings which we are going to save and protect,” said J.K. “This is about the Cottontown community saying you are not going to annex and destroy the jewel of Sumner County.

After some digging, the Bristers say they were told by Sumner County government leaders that the Greater Nashville Regional Council had conducted a survey that would help create a plan to redevelop Cottontown.

The Bristers said they were told FEMA had designated these buildings in flood zones, allowing them to be demolished.

“No one was telling us what the plan was,” said J.K. “There was a small group of people on the previous commission that knew what they were going to do with it, but nobody told the citizens of Cottontown.”

After News 2 showed up Tuesday morning, the Bristers were told demolition of these buildings would be put on pause.

The couple found the bulldozers, but now their next step is to make sure they don’t tear down the places that make up their small town.

“The future of Cottontown can not be owned by the government, and then the government bulldozing whatever they want willy nilly,” said Erica. “That’s not how we’re going to grow Cottontown.”

News 2 did reach out to Cottontown’s mayor but has not heard back.

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News 2 also reached out to the Greater Nashville Regional Council whose executive director Michael Skipper sent us this statement:

“Unfortunately, I think a few people are misinformed about our organization.  We haven’t conducted any such study, nor would we.  We will be helping Sumner County Government and a few of the local municipalities work with its residents and businesses over the next year to develop a long-term vision for growth, but that hasn’t yet started.  I have seen social media posts earlier today claiming that we are Nashville.   We are not Metro Government. GNRC is a regional planning organization created by the state legislature in the 1960s.  We are owned and operated by local governments across 13 counties in Middle Tennessee.  We serve as shared staff to those city and county governments and help them conduct community engagement.  We also help them identify state and federal funds to improve local infrastructure and gain access to various resources for residents in need.  We do not have the authority, nor the interest, in dictating how our member governments grow and develop.  We exist to provide professional support, technical assistance, and access to grants.

I’m not sure what others have planned for the area in terms of a pipeline or utilities, but if the residents of Cottontown are interested in seeing the preservation of their historic buildings or the conservation of land, that would be a wonderful sentiment for them to share during the upcoming county planning process.   We have a long track record of providing resources to help communities do just that.”

Greater Nashville Regional Council Executive Director Michael Skipper

News 2 also reached out to Sumner County Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield who sent us this info on the situation at hand:

“In August 2022, the outgoing County Mayor and County Commissioners moved forward with plans to have the historic Community Center demolished to make way for a park and future greenway under the guise of a “Hazard Mitigation Grant.”

However, it was never disclosed to community members this was occurring, and most outgoing old Commissioners and incoming new Commissioners weren’t fully aware of the scope of what was happening either. The new Commission (seated in September) was falsely led to believe that the historic Community Center was actually in the flood plain, had been condemned, was falling apart, and needed to be torn down as it was a liability and unusable for the community. Unfortunately, none of that turned out to be true. The building wasn’t in the flood plain at all and was still in good enough shape for private citizens to be concerned enough to purchase the structure from the County to preserve it. These community members told the County Mayor’s office that this was their desire. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s office never passed along the citizen’s offer to the new Commission, which, had we known, would have stopped this tragedy from happening.

During our Monday, October 3rd General Operations Committee Meeting, we found out the real reason they wanted to demolish the historic Community Center. It is so they could move another landmark structure, the Old Post Office, out of a tiny sliver of FEMA-designated flood plain from across the street from the Community Center. 

Out of this process, we also found out that for some reason yet to be determined, the Cottontown Community Center was deeded to the County in 2019 from two families that were the sole remaining shareholders of a group called Cottontown Community Center, Inc.

Other community members have since stepped up to the plate, expressing their desire to reform a new type of community group to preserve what’s left of their historic community. Or have private citizens purchase the land and buildings outright to try and preserve them on their own. 

I’ve since requested that this issue be added to our Tuesday, October 11th Legislative Agenda to discuss the possibility of declaring this as surplus property to sell or donate to the community for its historic and cultural preservation.”

Sumner County Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield