An East Tennessee university will expand this January.
Lincoln Memorial University, in Harrogate, has invested $1.2 million into a project that will transform a part of of downtown Cumberland Gap. The university bought a convention center, log cabin, pavilion, train depot, and night club from the facilities' previous owners. The buildings, which are all on one city block, will be used to house LMU's arts program.
According to LMU President James Dawson, the buildings will include studios and galleries for students' artwork. While the convention center is already open, he expects most of the others to be ready by January.
Dawson told 10News the project has been 18 months in the making.
"We like the community, it's been very supportive," he said.
The nightclub that LMU bought is undergoing a major renovation. However, Dawson said all of the other buildings have only needed cosmetic work.
While there are only about 30 students who have elected art as a major at LMU, the buildings will likely get plenty of use. Dawson said most of the school's 1,800 undergraduates need to take an arts course in order to get a bachelor's degree.
"It's a good opportunity for us, it's a good opportunity to infuse some life into Cumberland Gap," he said.
Cumberland Gap Mayor John Douglas said he was excited about the project too. He has been mayor of Cumberland Gap for 18 years and said LMU projects was the biggest development in town he had ever seen.
"There's going be more classes down here, more people down here, it's going to be progressive for this whole town," he said.
Cumberland Gap resident Chuck Coffey said there was some concern Cumberland Gap would lose sales tax revenue from the businesses that had previously set up shop in LMU's facilities. However, he said there's hope the possible introduction of events like arts fairs and festivals could increase tourism in the area.
"I think in the long run it will definitely pay off," he said.
Douglas said Cumberland Gap has yet to project how LMU's expansion will affect its tax revenue. However, he said he believes the town will see a financial bump.
According to Douglas, a new cafe already has plans to open up across the street from LMU. A new, 3-month-old coffee shop, near LMU said it also believes its business will benefit.
"We hope so," said Teresa McPherson, owner of Cups and Brushes. "We want to bring people here to the gap."
LMU would also like to do more of that during the summer too. Dawson said his school's arts program wants to expand its summer offerings and the new expansion will help it in that process.