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Fix-up grant surprises pub owner

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A nearly $200,000 grant would pay to fix the roof, repair bricks and update windows and doors at a downtown Franklin bar.

Façade work to the Jeff Street Pub would benefit the downtown by cleaning up the exterior of the prominent building and restoring its historical look, members of a city agency said when approving the grant last month.

Board officials are ready to see construction start, except for one problem — the business owner doesn’t know anything about the repairs, hasn’t agreed to do them and can’t afford a 10 percent match for the $220,000 project.

Now city officials who inherited the grants from the Franklin Development Corp. that approved them are trying to sort out what the project is, what it will cost and whether the owner wants to or can do it.

Grant details

The Franklin Development Corp. approved nearly $200,000 to help a downtown bar renovate the exterior of the building and repair the roof. But the owner of the Jeff Street Pub said she’s hasn’t agreed to any projects or asked for the money.

The project: The façade work would repair and restore the historic look of the three-story downtown building by repairing masonry, windows and doors. The roof also would be repaired.

Scaled back: Originally the organization was considering a nearly $1 million proposed by a developer who wanted to turn the upper two floors into apartments. Owner Karen Duckworth said she was against the idea because she didn’t want to give up the upper two levels of the building.

No paperwork: City officials can’t find any paperwork outlining the scope or costs of the project Franklin Development Corp. board members discussed. Board president Larry Koenes said the grant was approved before the details could be discussed with Duckworth.

The development agency board agreed to give Jeff Street Pub, 90 E. Jefferson St., a grant up to $197,550 to help the business repair its building façade and roof. The downtown bar would have to provide a 10 percent match.

But owner Karen Duckworth wasn’t aware that the board was considering a grant for her business and doesn’t have the money available to provide the match.

The grant, one of nine approved by the organization totaling more than $900,000, was awarded as part of a call for projects the Franklin Development Corp. made this year.

The development corporation is being reorganized to give city officials more control over who serves on the board. The group was created in 2008 with the goal of spurring economic development throughout the city and revitalizing the downtown. The board started with

$5 million in tax dollars from tax-increment financing districts, where some taxes from businesses are set aside to be used for development projects.

Franklin community development director Krista Linke, who has taken over management of the Franklin Development Corp. grants as part of the reorganization, hasn’t been able to find any documents that outline the scope or cost of the Jeff Street Pub project or any signed agreements between the business and the organization.

Board members initially considered a proposal from a developer interested in renovating the upper two floors of the building into apartments. That plan was discussed at a public informational meeting the week before the grant was approved, said Mayor Joe McGuinness, who was a member of the committee reviewing the proposals.

After the initial developers dropped out, the group was unable to contact Duckworth to discuss a project solely to repair the roof and façade, board president Larry Koenes said.

But neither version of the Jeff Street Pub projects received her OK, Duckworth said.

Former chief executive office Craig Wells, who resigned at the end of June, presented the idea to board members to approve money for the project and the group would then discuss it with her, Koenes said.

“The board felt strongly about it being a prominent building there and the condition of it. It was our offer back to her based on the proposal. We set the parameters as far as the amount not to exceed and to see if she would be interested,” Koenes said.

Wells did not return phone calls.

The original proposal was for a $940,000 project that would turn the top two floors of the Jeff Street Pub building into four apartments as well as renovate the exterior of the building and install a garage and staircase.

Duckworth said she was asked to donate the top two floors of the building for the apartment project, which she didn’t want to do. The developer who proposed the idea later dropped the plan, Koenes said.

The group then wanted to pitch the roof and façade improvements to Duckworth during the week before the grant was approved, but she was on vacation or otherwise unavailable to discuss it, Koenes said.

McGuinness wasn’t made aware of the stripped-down project during that week by anyone from the group. He’s also not sure where the $220,000 project cost came from.

“It went from having an investor/developer involved doing all the work to the investor/developer pulled out and now we’re just going to do the façade and roof. That’s when it was news to me,” McGuinness said.

Since Wells resigned his position as executive director and CEO of the organization, Linke is now overseeing the nine grants approved by the board. She’s been able to locate agreements signed by the property owners and Wells for the eight other projects, but not the Jeff Street Pub project.

“It looks like he never even talked to her about it,” she said.

No money has been paid.

Jeff Street Pub was one building that was considered as part of downtown façade grant provided by the state earlier in the year. The business considered applying for the grant but did not, Koenes said.

Board members decided to approve the grant amount with similar terms to that state grant, with a 10 percent match from the business owner. The state grant only had a 5 percent match requirement, McGuinness said.

A developer and contractor willing to do the façade work contacted Linke about the project, but city officials haven’t been able to discuss the project yet. Once Franklin officials have a better idea of the scope and costs of the project, they plan to meet with Duckworth and discuss whether she wants to or can afford the work.

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