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Editorial: Franklin on right track to shed vacant buildings

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A vacant downtown Franklin building and the former home of city offices are both on the market again.

The Franklin Redevelopment Commission is trying to sell the former G.C. Murphy building and former Franklin City Hall, in an effort to bring new businesses downtown and have the properties owned by a developer, business or group — instead of government.

Ending the city board’s ownership of the two vacant buildings is a top priority this year, board members said.

And it should be a top priority. Sitting empty, these buildings are a financial and visual drain on the downtown.

Both buildings are owned by the city government agency, meaning no property taxes are being paid on the properties. The board also spent about $17,000 in 2012 for utilities and maintenance as well as paid to replace the roof and remove mold from basement of the former G.C. Murphy building, city officials said.

The Murphy building, on East Jefferson Street, has been government-owned since 2009. It was vacant when it was purchased by the county following the 2008 flood, before being traded to the city. The building most recently housed an antique mall.

The former city hall, at 55 W. Madison St., has been vacant since 2009, when city offices moved to the current Monroe Street location. The building previously was the city’s post office.

“Disposition of these downtown buildings is a priority just so we could move on,” redevelopment commission chairman Bob Heuchan said.

The city board has pledged to provide up to $200,000 to help with redevelopment of the former G.C. Murphy building and up to $100,000 for the former city hall. The Franklin Development Corp., a nonprofit economic development group formed and funded by the city, also is offering a matching grant up to $100,000 to help with façade repairs on the Murphy building.

Members of the board will consider proposals and decide whether to sell the building or reject all offers and keep searching.

The board is not targeting a certain type of development for either building and will consider whatever ideas are presented. The board is focused on finding a buyer or developer locally. Board members are looking for the best use and may choose to pass on the best financial offer if they feel a different proposal would be a better fit for the downtown, Heuchan said.

Board members have asked for more proposals for the Murphy building. The board didn’t find a new owner for the building during a first round of proposals last year, but the hope is that some new interest in the building will end with a sale. Members of the development agency board plan to consider new proposals next month. They are due March 21.

The city board is waiting for appraisals for the former city hall before determining an asking price for the historic building, which was built in 1936 as a post office. The board likely would not consider proposals for the building until April.

Empty, public-owned commercial buildings do not bring in property taxes, while their upkeep costs tax dollars.

Franklin is right to make selling the buildings a top priority. The result will return the buildings to the commercial, taxpaying sphere and relieve the city agency of an unnecessary expense.

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