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Commission approves sale of old Franklin City Hall

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No one has used Franklin’s former city hall in five years, and the wear and tear show.

The building on Madison Street needs at least one new air-conditioning unit and could use a new boiler. Bricks on the building and concrete steps are crumbling and need to be patched, and parts of the metal roof need to be sealed and repainted.

Those repairs are needed to bring the building up to date and ready for day-to-day use by any tenant, which is why a city board has committed to spend up to $260,000 in tax dollars to help make those improvements.

The Franklin Redevelopment Commission approved selling the former city hall to developer 55 West Madison LLC, which plans to turn the building into a restaurant and brewery. The building was sold for $10,000 to the developer, which is led by Franklin resident Phil Warrenburg, who has experience as an architect and engineer.

The city board also agreed to give the developers a grant specifically for repairs and renovations to the building from the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, which set aside tax dollars from certain businesses for economic development and infrastructure projects.

The building is structurally in good shape, but paint, the exterior and mechanical systems have worn down because it’s been vacant since city offices moved out in 2009, according to a building inspection report.

Heating and cooling systems in the building are among the main problems that need to be fixed.

One air conditioner is not working at all, and a second air conditioner and steam boiler have reached the end of their recommended use. Masons need to recaulk and seal joints between bricks in the building and concrete blocks around the walls and entrances, according to the inspection report.

Building inspectors also highlighted other minor issues, such as chipping paint, clogged drains, corroded plumbing and ceiling tiles that have fallen or broken.

The developer is compiling a list of projects and the final cost, but the repairs are expected to be less than the amount being provided by the city, Warrenburg said.

The city board is paying for the repairs because the fixes will make the building usable for any tenant, commission member Richard Wertz said.

If Warrenburg and his partners decided to drop the project, the improvements would make it easier for a new developer to come in, purchase and renovate the building for some other use.

“The RDC is going to have to fix that building up to do something with it anyway,” Wertz said.

The city board got the building from the city in late 2011 and was tasked with finding a new use for it.

The commission started taking proposals from developers last year and rejected ideas, including using it as a city court or turning it into shops and a small cafe, before selecting the brewery idea in March. The building, which was originally built as a post office for the city, was added to the National Register of Historic Places since then.

Work on the building improvements can begin before the developer raises the remainder of the $450,000 needed to open the brewery.

The developer is required to finish raising those funds from investors by Oct. 1.

Warrenburg declined to comment about who the investors are but said most of the interested people are local residents, he said. Investors can buy a share of the project for $2,000.

Warrenburg and his partners now need to begin design work on the project. In mid-July, the developer will meet with architects and builder, Brown Remodeling, to finalize building plans, which will determine to what extent repairs and updates need to be done, Warrenburg said.

The work to begin rehabbing the building could begin this fall if design work is completed on schedule and building plans are approved, Warrenburg said. The restaurant and brewery are currently scheduled to open next spring, he said.

The city will have a mortgage on the building during construction.

If the developer drops out of the project before it’s completed, the redevelopment commission would reclaim ownership of the building, commission member Rob Henderson said.

Since the tax money is being used for only building repairs, the city wouldn’t lose any of its investment if the business fails, he said.

“We have this really cool downtown building, and we’re going to put money in to really shore it up with some true improvements,” Henderson said. “That’s one of the reasons I came down with ‘This is OK.’”

Henderson and Wertz are supportive of the project and hope it succeeds, but both voted against the sale Monday because they wanted the city council to approve the project, too.

A change in state law taking effect July 1 will require elected city council members to approve selling any property owned by the redevelopment commission.

Three council members requested the commission delay selling the building until after July 1 to give them the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal.

Other commission members said the project didn’t need to be delayed any more, since they’ve been negotiating with Warrenburg for months on a contract.

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