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College brews up café quickly with help from agency grants

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The Franklin College cafe offers space where Franklin College students and members of the community can meet.
The Franklin College cafe offers space where Franklin College students and members of the community can meet. PHOTO BY JOE SABA

A new cafe in downtown Franklin likely would have opened without help from a city-formed organization, but that opening would have taken longer.

The new Franklin College café, located in a storefront connected to Franklin City Hall, opened with the help of more than $50,000 in grants from the Franklin Development Corp. to renovate the building and buy kitchen equipment.

Without the grants, the college likely would have paid for all the work and equipment on its own, but having the money from the agency allowed the café to open sooner, said Lisa Fears, Franklin College vice president of planning, plant and technology.

The Franklin Development Corp., formed and funded by the city in 2008, viewed the café as a way to help redevelop a part of downtown Franklin and also supported the college’s goal of bringing it and community closer together, said Craig Wells, president and chief executive officer.


What: Franklin College opened a café in an unused storefront attached to Franklin city hall.

The goal: To have students and the Franklin community interact more and to bring more people into downtown Franklin.

The arrangement: The Franklin Development Corp. gave the college two grants for the cafe: $25,000 to buy equipment, such as refrigerators and display cases; and $26,000 to update the front of the building.

Work is planned to redevelop the front of the café, and two other nearby properties have plans for upgrades, which could prompt other downtown businesses to fix up their buildings, Wells said.

Last year, the Franklin Development Corp. approved spending more than $1.3 million on four projects, including the grants for the café. The organization had asked for proposals on how to spend the money, which was part of more than $5 million in funding the group had received from the city when it was formed. That funding came from the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, which set aside property taxes from certain companies for economic development projects.

Development agency officials had wanted the projects to include partnerships by multiple organizations, not focus solely on infrastructure, be able to be done within 24 to 34 months, focus on the downtown area, encourage redevelopment, be partially funded with money from the group proposing the project, promote quality of life and make the city distinctive.

The Franklin College café, which had its official opening this week, offers food and drinks, including food from local restaurants and bakeries such as the nearby Benjamin’s Coffeehouse. The café also is a place to display local art and a downtown hangout spot for students and residents, Fears said.

“What we envisioned was a setting where the college and community can be in the same place, and it’s working, and we are already seeing that,” Fears said.

The new cafe doesn’t compete with other local businesses, since it serves some of their products. Instead, the café gives those other businesses a chance to sell their products to more customers, Wells said.

Another appeal of the café was its focus on art and culture, something the development corporation wants to see more of downtown, he said.

The two grants for the café — $25,000 for equipment and $26,000 for facade improvements — were to help pay for the startup costs of the café but did not cover all of the expenses, Fears said.

Franklin College also paid for renovations and equipment and expects to pay for some of the work to the front of the building, Fears said. She estimated the project had cost about $60,000 so far.

But the money from Franklin Development Corp. helped the college start the café faster, she said.

“We were going to do this project regardless. It would have meant more time fundraising and probably a longer implementation period. With that money, we were able to hit it all at one time,” Fears said.

Last year, work started to renovate the storefront space, at 66 S. Water St., which most recently was a fabric store. The college got help from students at the Atterbury Job Corps Center on electrical and carpentry work and painting, Fears said.

The café also needed equipment, including refrigerators, freezers and display cases for food, and asked the development agency for help. The $25,000 grant didn’t cover the full cost of the equipment needed, but much of the equipment the college bought was used, which saved money, Fears said.

The next step will be to complete work on the outside of the building. The Franklin Development Corp. gave the college a grant for $26,000 with the hope of helping redevelop the area where the café is located, Wells said.

The organization also awarded a $500,000 loan and $275,000 grant to an Indianapolis company to redevelop the Padgett Printing facility, across Monroe Street from city hall. That building originally housed the Alexander Livery Stable and later Alexander Chevrolet. Work also is planned to redevelop the nearby Hazelett building.

“It’s all in same area, and we hope to spur others to do their buildings,” Wells said.

The grant likely won’t be enough to do all the façade work needed, Fears said.

That work is estimated to cost about $40,000, based on initial designs, and would include replacing a garage door with a carriage door and redeveloping the outside of the building, she said.

Fears said her hope is that the college can raise enough money to pay for the difference, but if not, some of the work might need to be scaled back.

The café opened before the facade work was done, and Fears expects that work to begin this year.

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