Welch College Blames West End Neighbors For Unraveling Sale To Aquinas

In October, Aquinas College signed a letter of intent to buy the Welch College campus on West End Avenue in Nashville, taking full control in 2015. Welch President Matt Pinson and Aquinas President Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith said they had been working out the deal for months. Credit: Aquinas

In October, Aquinas College signed a letter of intent to buy the Welch College campus on West End Avenue in Nashville, taking full control in 2015. Welch President Matt Pinson and Aquinas President Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith said they had been working out the deal for months. Credit: Aquinas

Plans to relocate two Nashville college campuses have fallen apart. Welch College blames the neighbors on West End. Aquinas says it simply changed its mind.

Welch – which was known as Free Will Baptist Bible College – occupies a prime piece of real estate. It’s been trying for years to unload the campus so it could move to the suburbs.

In October, Welch announced a deal with nearby Aquinas College to take over the property. But neighbors raised concerns over a necessary zoning change. Aquinas said Monday that it was pulling the plug.

After considering the requirements of the new strategic plan and a long period of due diligence, Aquinas will not be pursuing the Welch College campus it had been considering since early 2013.

Aquinas insists the decision has nothing to do with sidestepping a drawn-out fight with local residents. But Welch president Matt Pinson says otherwise. He wrote a letter to school supporters late last week.

The leadership and board at Aquinas believe that the timing of the zoning process with the Metro Board of Zoning Appeals, which could take several months because of neighborhood opposition, makes it impossible for Aquinas to move forward with the purchase and still have facilities ready for the 2015-16 academic year.

The Richland-West End Neighborhood Association has been concerned about increased activity at the quiet, historic campus.

More than a decade ago, Welch was in talks with Watkins College of Art, Design and Film. Now that a sale to another college has fallen through, the campus may go to developers.

“The property is more valuable as an educational use,” says Welch attorney George Dean. “But they just may not be able to find a buyer. So the only recourse after that is to sell it for single-family residential.”

As for Aquinas – which already has a campus further down on West End – the school says in a statement it plans instead to expand within its current footprint.

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