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Franklin seeing housing market boom

FRANKLIN – Steve Thurmond, executive director of the Franklin-Simpson Chamber of Commerce, likes to brag to his fellow southcentral Kentucky business leaders that his county is the place to come for affordable prices at the gas pump.

Now, Thurmond may have something else to brag about: a real estate market that at times has folks lining up not only at the BP station but to make offers on houses.

“There’s a boom going on right now,” he said Tuesday. “It’s hard to find a home to buy in Simpson County right now, but they’re building houses pretty quickly.”

You don’t have to take Thurmond’s word for it. Franklin Realtor Jack Wade said the current housing market in the county is “like nothing I’ve seen in my 21 years” in the business.

“I’m seeing houses listed and be gone in 24 hours and sell for more than the list price,” Wade said. “I’ve seen people line up to make offers on houses.”

It’s a phenomenon that’s happening across the country as interest rates remain low and families find new money in their pockets from the federal COVID-19 stimulus packages.

But Franklin, located as it is on the Tennessee border and just south of Bowling Green, may be taking the housing boom to another level.

Those looking to escape escalating real estate prices to the north and south of Franklin often decide that the town of about 8,500 people is the right fit.

“People are picking Franklin because of the price of property,” Wade said. “Instead of paying $200,000 for a house, they can buy the same house here for $180,000.”

The statistics bear that out. The Xome.com online auction website said the median home value in Franklin is $175,500, much lower than the national median home value of $219,700.

The result, Wade said, is a trend of people using Franklin as something of a bedroom community.

“We’ve had clients where one spouse works in Bowling Green and the other works in Nashville,” he said. “They end up picking Franklin as the place to live.

“A lot of people like a smaller town and more of a laid-back lifestyle.”

Another Simpson County Realtor, Jason Goodman, noted that Franklin is in a “sweet spot” because of its location along Interstate 65.

“You can be on I-65 in about seven minutes or less from anywhere in Franklin,” Goodman said.

But Goodman said Franklin isn’t as sleepy as it may have been in years past. The housing boom is also partly fueled by an industrial base that includes Berry Global, RKW-North America, Franklin Precision Industry and others.

“A lot of the housing demand can be chalked up to bringing in new industry,” Goodman said.

Whatever the reason, the growth in demand for housing in Simpson County has created a heavy workload for Carter Munday, administrator of the Franklin-Simpson Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We’ve never had the residential growth like we’re seeing right now,” said Munday, who has been associated with planning and zoning in Simpson County since the 1990s.

Munday pointed out that the county’s residential permit approvals hovered at “40 to 60” per year for more than a decade before jumping to 111 in 2017 and climbing further to 142 in 2019.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Munday said he saw 136 residential permits in 2020 and expects an even bigger number this year.

“We have 350 single-family approvals that haven’t been built yet, and we have about 200 multi-family units approved,” he said. “In the last three months we’ve seen high activity.”

It’s a trend that has Munday hopping to keep up and has local leaders like Simpson County Judge-Executive Mason Barnes smiling.

“Our PVA (property valuation administrator) was just telling me that we have added millions of dollars to our tax base since last year,” Barnes said. “People locating here helps the economy and helps our population growth.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

Water floods the back yards of homes on Stone Hollow Lane on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, after a line of storms swept through Bowling Green Monday night. (Grace Ramey/photo@bgdailynews.com)

WKU's new 'First-Year Village' opens this fall

When incoming freshmen come to Western Kentucky University this fall, campus administrators hope to give them an experience worth coming back to, namely with two new, high-end residence halls that are on track to open for students in August and showcase WKU’s new First-Year Village.

“Students don’t succeed alone. They are most successful when they are surrounded by a support system,” WKU President Timothy Caboni said Tuesday, explaining a key feature of the new dormitories: living-learning communities.

Through living-learning communities, groups of students with similar social and academic interests will share a floor and its amenities. Regular activities designed to be relevant to students’ studies will also help build community, campus administrators have said.

“The living-learning communities will help our students connect socially and academically and chart their best course forward here at WKU,” Caboni said.

In the newly completed Normal Hall, which sits along Normal Street, those amenities include two community bathrooms, all-gender restrooms and common areas like a kitchen and a lounge with a view of campus. Both residence halls will feature “pod-style” housing, meaning that groups of up to 25 students will share spaces.

The adjacent Regents Hall is still under construction, but both halls will be open to students this fall.

Under the university’s strategic plan, each WKU freshman will get to join a living-learning community. Most of the 635 students occupying both residence halls will likely be a part of a living-learning community, though Caboni clarified that there will be an application process students go through to get a sense of where they best fit.

The new residence halls also feature classroom space for meetings with faculty or gatherings with roommates and music practice rooms. Two new dining venues serving coffee and sandwiches will also add options to the bottom of WKU’s hill.

With the number of high school graduates to recruit from projected to peak and then start declining by the mid-2020s, WKU administrators hope the glossy new First-Year Village will be an indispensable recruiting tool.

To local media, Caboni pitched the new First-Year Village as an Ivy League experience without the back-breaking tuition.

“Many of our Ivy League institutions are built around college halls where young people come together and live in small communities,” Caboni said. “You know what the price tag is on an Ivy League education, but why shouldn’t that be available to every student ...

“We want to make sure that every student finds their place,” Caboni said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

SKyPAC announces show lineup for 2021-22

With COVID-19 infections and deaths on a recent decline, Arts of Southern Kentucky has released the schedule for its 2021-22 presentation series headlined by country music artist Jimmie Allen and actor/comedian Rob Schneider.

The announcement comes three months after the organization announced the 2021-22 Orchestra Kentucky lineup that includes a total of 11 shows beginning July 17 and ending in June 2022.

The presentation series will now add 16 more events to SKyPAC over the next year.

Bronson Norris Murphy will open the new series Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m., and “The Golden Age of Hollywood” show will end the slate May 6 at 7:30 p.m.

This new season is the first that Arts of Southern Kentucky President and CEO Jeffrey Reed has planned during his tenure.

Reed said he is looking forward to seeing SKyPAC back near full capacity.

“We exist to present the performing arts to the area,” Reed said. “This will be our chance to open up and fulfill our duty. This lineup is incredibly important.”

“Saturday Night Live” veteran Schneider will be the second show of the new schedule Sept. 25. His comedic routine is one of the several diverse events that Reed helped plan.

Other shows that will be featured at SKyPAC include Broadway touring productions, gospel concerts, Christmas-themed events and a tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The wide range of presentations was a goal for Reed and company.

“It’s like asking a parent who their favorite kid is,” Reed said of his favorite event on the schedule. “I love them all. We really wanted to have a very diverse variety of shows to play to the community. We wanted to try and serve as many segments of the community as possible.”

Reed said Arts of Southern Kentucky could add more shows to the lineup.

Reed stressed the importance of the community returning to SKyPAC after the pandemic created less than ideal circumstances for his organization.

“We rely on the ticket sales for about half of our budget,” Reed said. “The hope is that enough people get vaccinated and be comfortable enough to attend our events. It’s very important that we are at near full capacity for each show.”

SKyPAC main stage corporate sponsorships are also available for those who are interested in showcasing their support for the arts in the community. For more information, contact Denise Lubey at 574-220-3332 or dlubey@artsofsky.org.

Season tickets for the new presentation series will be available through June 5.

Patrons who purchase a minimum of three events will also receive a free bonus event. Tickets range from $20 to $65 each.

Additional ticket information and the full schedule for the 2021-22 presentation series is available at www.theskypac.com or by calling the SKyPAC box office at 270-904-1880.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

Bond raised for woman charged in shooting case

A Bowling Green woman accused of hiding a firearm and ammunition connected to a deadly shooting was arraigned Tuesday.

Monica Rivas, 28, made her first appearance over video in Warren Circuit Court to be arraigned on a charge of tampering with physical evidence.

Rivas was arrested Sunday after being indicted in April by a grand jury that heard testimony regarding the death of Diego Pedro.

Pedro, 29, of Bowling Green, was found Feb. 9 in his vehicle at West 15th Avenue and Butler Way with a gunshot wound in the face. He died the next day at a Nashville hospital.

Police arrested Christian Castillo, 28, of Bowling Green, on a charge of murder.

At a preliminary hearing in February in Warren District Court, Bowling Green Police Department Detective Melissa Wartak testified that an investigation revealed that Castillo was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Rivas that was involved in a crash with Pedro’s vehicle just before the shooting.

Debris at the crash site and paint damage to Pedro’s vehicle led police to look for a 2007-2014 dark blue Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe or Avalanche, and surveillance footage from the area around the time of the incident further identified the suspect’s vehicle as an SUV with a grille guard, chrome handles and chrome side mirror.

Wartak testified in February that police were contacted Feb. 11 by an employee at Abel Court Apartments on Old Barren River Road, who reported that a resident there applied for a guest parking permit for a dark blue 2007 Chevrolet Suburban.

Police found the Suburban had sustained front-end damage and detained Castillo after he was found sitting inside the vehicle.

He denied any knowledge of a crash or shooting. He pleaded not guilty last week and has a pretrial conference set for June 21.

Rivas, who gave an account of events surrounding the shooting, reportedly made Castillo give her the nine-millimeter handgun believed to have been used in the incident and hid it at the apartment at Abel Court.

Police recovered the gun from under a mattress and also found multiple bullets in the toilet and pipes, Wartak testified.

Attorney John Austin, who was appointed to represent Rivas in an unrelated case, was on hand via video conference for the arraignment in the tampering case.

Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said during Tuesday’s hearing that Rivas failed to appear for prior court dates in the other criminal case, in which Rivas is charged with fraudulent use of a debit/credit card.

When she was indicted on the tampering charge, Rivas’ bond was set at $500, but Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson raised the bond to $5,000 after Cohron said the tampering charge was related to a homicide.

Rivas is scheduled to return to court June 14 for a pretrial conference.

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.