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Agency’s attorney gets grant to restore office

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A Franklin attorney will receive tax dollars to help make facade improvements at his office from an organization he helped create and works for.

The Franklin Development Corp. board approved a matching grant for Schafstall and Admire law office, 98 N. Jackson St. The facade improvement project will renovate the two street-facing sides of the building by removing siding and restoring the original features of the historic house.

Attorneys Rob Schafstall and Jim Admire expect to spend about $200,000 to renovate the building and will get a grant for up to $50,000 from the taxpayer-funded organization.

Schafstall played an instrumental part in forming the Franklin Development Corp. in 2008 and still serves as its attorney. Schafstall and former Mayor Fred Paris developed the nonprofit agency, which was funded with $5 million in tax dollars from the city. Schafstall also developed the organization’s bylaws and changes to those rules when its board of directors was overhauled last year.

Schafstall applied for the grant and said it is not a conflict of interest because he separated himself from any decision-making on the grant. He informed board members months ago he intended to apply, suggested they hire an outside attorney if needed and did not oversee any meetings where decisions on the grant were made.

“I don’t think it raises legal issues. There is really more of a question of undue influence, and I stayed out of their deliberations and tried not to participate in any way,” Schafstall said. “Both Jim and I would prefer to maintain a private practice, but we felt the project itself was important enough to us and important enough to the downtown revitalization efforts that it was a perfect match.”

The grant money given out by the organization for facade improvements comes from the $5 million the city pledged from its tax-increment financing, or TIF districts, which set aside some property taxes paid by businesses to be used for economic development.

The organization gave out 13 grants for projects totaling more than $2 million between fall 2012 and summer 2013.

New board members, who were appointed in August and September, approved up to $125,000 in new facade grants for Schafstall and Admire, Ann’s Restaurant and T-shirt Express in January and plans to ask the city for more TIF funds later this year to continue funding projects.

The total project price for the exterior work on his law office hasn’t been set yet, but Schafstall said it might be about $70,000, which would mean the organization would provide $35,000 in tax funds. Schafstall and Admire also are renovating the interior of the 100-year-old building without any public funds. He said both projects may total nearly $200,000.

Board members concurred that there is not a conflict of interest with the grant. Schafstall told board members in a public meeting that he intended to apply for funds,

did not oversee any of the meetings where board members considered applications and advised the board to hire an outside attorney if needed.

The board did not bring in another attorney.

The organization’s loan and grant committee, which includes board members Steve Woods and Lisa Jones, looked more closely at Schafstall’s request in order to resolve any potential conflicts, Woods said. After reviewing the project application, the renovation plans and financial information provided by the attorneys, committee members determined Schafstall’s project fit the goals of the facade grant program, which is to help business owners improve the look of properties downtown, he said.

Former board members had awarded Paris a grant of up to $245,000 to help purchase and renovate downtown buildings at 188-176 W. Jefferson St. and helped fund renovations at Paris’ building at 198 W. Jefferson St.

The organization uses a standard contract for all facade grants, so neither Schafstall nor another attorney will have to write a contract, and the agreement won’t have requirements different from any other grant, Woods said.

“At the end of the day, his building qualified. Him and Jim Admire qualify on a financial risk basis that we use and felt that was a good project to move forward with,” Woods said. “By putting money into that building, making it more attractive, we hope will get additional people to say, ‘I want to try that.’”

Due to the overall cost to renovate the inside and outside, Schafstall said the grant funds would be necessary to complete the project now. The majority is interior work including upgrading heating and cooling and renovating rooms, and public funds can’t be used for

those expenses.

The project is one Franklin Heritage is excited about because it will be another large historic home restored within a two-block radius of the courthouse, director Rob Shilts said. He’s been able to research the history of the house back to the 1920s. The work will include removing siding, replacing windows, repainting the building in a historic three-tone palate and rebuilding the porch, Shilts said.

“To get buildings like this that have not been touched for 60 or 70 years and have them kind of sprout up and re-emerge is pretty exciting stuff,” Shilts said. “That’s the kind of thing that spreads.”

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