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City hopes for buyer, shell building nears finish

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Construction on a 50,000 square foot industrial building in Franklin will be finished this month.
Construction on a 50,000 square foot industrial building in Franklin will be finished this month.

Construction on a 50,000 square foot industrial building in Franklin will be finished this month.
Construction on a 50,000 square foot industrial building in Franklin will be finished this month.

For sale to a business looking to expand or relocate in Franklin: a new 50,000-square-foot building that’s ready to be designed to your needs.

Construction is finishing this month on a shell building on Graham Road, which was built this year with the hope of attracting a new manufacturer to the city.

The building, which was partially funded with tax dollars, was constructed with three loading docks and an overhead garage door, but no floors or interior walls, so it easily can be adapted to meet a company’s needs.

The Johnson County Development Corp. has sent information about the building to 17 companies this year, President and Chief Executive Officer Cheryl Morphew said. Nine of those have visited Franklin to check out the building. And three companies still have the building on their list of site finalists for new locations or expansions, she said.

Local officials had hoped the building might be sold before it was even finished. But construction is wrapping up, and no deal has been finalized.

That was an ambitious goal that hasn’t panned out, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said. Although a business isn’t ready to move in, the high level of interest already has made the shell building project a worthwhile venture for the city, he said. A city board has provided less than $10,000 in tax money to get the building constructed so far but promised as much as $580,000.

The Franklin Redevelopment Commission has paid less than $10,000 toward the building to help with legal fees but promised up to $100,000 for those costs. All of the design and construction has been paid for by the developer, Runnebohm Construction, and the landowner has agreed to wait up to three years to be paid the $480,000 cost of the land. If the building isn’t sold or leased by September 2015, the city board has agreed to pay that land cost.

If the building sells and becomes the home to a manufacturer that creates several high-paying jobs in the next few years, Franklin could consider another similar project if there is still a need on the state level, McGuinness said.

Now that construction is completing, the city expects a new wave of interest in coming months.

“When (companies) want existing space, they want to move in tomorrow,” McGuinness said.

The building is one of 14 new speculative buildings in the state but is one of just two in the 50,000- to 150,000-square-foot range, according to Molly Whitehead of the Indiana Economic Development Commission. The most comparable competitor is in Plainfield, but that building is closer to 200,000 square feet.

The Franklin building was designed to fit the small-size need, since most of the new buildings being developed are much larger spaces, averaging about 700,000 square feet, to be used for warehousing or divided for multiple tenants, Whitehead said.

Of the 97 requests the state commission has received so far this year that ask about available locations, 29 were for buildings in the 50,000- to 150,000-square-foot size range, Whitehead said.

Because of the shell building and other available manufacturing facilities in Johnson County, the state has been able to pass along more than half of the site requests it gets from companies to Johnson County, Whitehead said. That information is sent to other counties, too.

Interest in the shell building has slowed compared with the first half of the year, but Morphew still submits the information to about a fifth of companies interested in Johnson County. Up to June, the development corporation sent information about the shell building to 13 companies, eight of which visited Franklin to view the building. Since June that number has slowed to four information requests and one site visit. The four requests since June still make up about one-fifth of the responses the organization has sent to companies considering sites in the county, higher than any other local property, Morphew said.

The building is the easiest for Morphew to market because it was designed as a basic structure with four walls, a roof, one overhead garage door and three truck bays. The interior is wide open except for a few rows of support columns, and the floor is still stone and dirt.

Other available buildings in Franklin left vacant after another company moved out have features that were designed specifically for those businesses. A new company might have to renovate or redesign the work space. That’s not an issue with the new building and is one aspect that is attractive to various industries, such as metalworking or food production, Morphew said.

“That’s what makes this building so valuable is its flexibility. A company doesn’t have to try to retrofit to their needs,” she said.

The Franklin site is a finalist for three companies that are looking for new locations, Morphew said, but she doesn’t know when any will make a final decision.

Opening a new location or expanding is a major business decision, and the process can move glacially slowly, McGuinness said. Domestic businesses can take months to finalize that kind of decision, and the process potentially can be even longer if an international company is involved, he said.

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