Franklin development agency gets $500,000

A taxpayer-funded organization is getting more money to fix up homes and businesses around downtown Franklin.

This week, a city board approved giving Franklin Development Corp. $500,000 from the city’s tax-increment financing districts. About $400,000 will go to updating and improving business buildings and storefronts in downtown Franklin, and $100,000 will go into loans for residents who want to fix up their homes, such as with new siding, windows or paint.

The group originally was given more than $5 million when it started in 2008. That money went to façade improvements, loans to residents and selected large projects, such as helping Ivy Tech Community College buy land for an expansion and helping renovate a vacant Jefferson Street shop into a restaurant.

Last month, the organization asked for additional funds from the Franklin Redevelopment Commission, saying most of the original money had been spent. The proposal asked for $500,000 annually for three years. This week, the redevelopment commission approved the first year of funding, but the development corporation will have to request further money each year.

Commission member Rob Henderson voted no, saying he wanted to give the group a smaller grant, around $350,000, which would require business owners to put more of their own money into projects the development corporation funds to fix up their buildings.

Since becoming mayor, Joe McGuinness said, he has participated in about 15 ribbon cutting ceremonies for new or relocated businesses in the downtown area. If it weren’t for the Franklin Development Corp., those businesses might not have had the money to fix up the storefronts or improve their shops, he said.

“Was I a major critic four or five years ago? Absolutely,” McGuinness said. “Am I eating my words today? Yes.”

The next focus of the organization is working toward covering operating expenses through an abandoned or blighted homes project.

About $275,000 of the money the organization has left from its initial funding is designated for the blighted homes project, corporation board member Jeff Mercer said.

The agency wants to have abandoned and run-down homes that have high tax bills given to it, so it can fix them up. Once the homes are renovated, the organization can sell them, potentially making money for operating expenses, and the city can begin collecting taxes on the property again.

Franklin Development Corp. board members have said that they want to start considering a few homes at a time to assess the need or demand for this type of project.

The money that the redevelopment commission approved will be used for grant and loan programs that are ongoing.

A portion of the $100,000 for residential improvements can be used toward blighted houses as well, Mercer said. Residential loans are restricted to $20,000 or less.

The $400,000 designated for businesses can be used toward façade grants, which are up to $25,000 per side of the building, or up to $50,000 if the business is located on a corner. About 35 facades in downtown Franklin have been fixed up using grants from the development corporation, but another 79 façades still need upgrades, according to Franklin director of community development Krista Linke.

If all 79 business owners applied for the maximum grant, it would total more than $2.6 million, she said.

At a glance

The Franklin Development Corp. was given a $500,000 grant for future projects. Here’s a look at how the grant money is broken down:

$100,000: residential loans, where residents can fix up the exterior of their homes

$400,000: commercial grants or loans, such as facade grants