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Developer plans brewpub for building

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A new restaurant is planned in Franklin within the next two years, and more than $700,000 will be spent to repair and renovate the historic former city hall.

The city redevelopment commission is selling the building, at 55 W. Madison St., for $10,000 and then will spend $260,000 in tax dollars to pay for building improvements such as brick work, repairs, and replacing heating and cooling units. After that, the developer, 55 West Madison LLC, will renovate the building into a restaurant, and an in-house brewery would create its own beers to serve.

The recently formed company is led by Franklin resident Phil Warrenburg and is still working to raise at least $450,000 from investors to complete those renovations.

Investors are interested in the project but have been hesitant to commit money until the developer owns the building, said Eric Prime, the attorney representing the developer. Once the group owns the building, the developer should be able to raise the $450,000 it has promised, Prime said.

“Folks are a little skittish. There is a lot of money on the sidelines. People are interested,” he said.

Redevelopment commission members said they think Warrenburg can raise the rest of the money and run a successful business, but they have taken additional steps to protect the city board’s investment in the historic downtown building.

They want to be sure the city board doesn’t lose control of the former city hall if the business inside it failed. City offices moved out of the building in early 2009 after it was damaged in the flood the year before. The redevelopment commission has owned the building since 2011 and has been trying to find a new owner.

The building was originally the city’s post office and has historic features that board members wanted preserved. The city took the building over after a new office was built in 1980. The board plans to spend money on the building out of the city’s tax-

increment financing, or TIF, districts, which set aside tax dollars from certain businesses for economic development projects.

None of the tax dollars will pay for the restaurant business, such as buying stoves, furniture or glassware. The money will be used only for building updates that would benefit any owner, in case the developer suddenly backs out of the project.

The city board also will hold a mortgage on the building until the developer raises all of the $450,000 and obtains a certificate of occupancy for the restaurant, so the city would be able to get the building back if the restaurant isn’t built. The developer will have two years to complete the renovation and open the restaurant; otherwise, the city can reclaim the building.

The safety nets, such as the mortgage, help ensure the city won’t lose the building to a bank or a sale to another owner, commission member Rob Henderson said.

Last year the commission rejected ideas to use the former city hall for a new city court and passed on a resident’s proposal to develop it into space for shops and a small cafe. Board members supported Warrenburg’s idea because it filled a need for more dining options downtown, he was committed to maintaining the historic features of the building and showed he could raise the money to build and operate the brewpub.

Old Post Brewpub’s menu would include items such as soft pretzels, stuffed burgers, and fish and chips, according to the company’s proposal. Lunches would cost $7 to $9, with dinners averaging about $12 to $15.

A new restaurant will help attract and keep more people downtown, Franklin Heritage director Rob Shilts said.

After large events at the Artcraft Theatre, visitors pack nearby restaurants, such as The Willard and Jeff Street Pub, which send other people to restaurants elsewhere to eat, Shilts said.

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