When a Greenwood attorney bought his downtown building five years ago, he saw potential on the second floor that was in need of remodeling.
Now, R. Lee Money’s Main Street building is home to seven small offices, which are almost always leased by local professionals, including a mental health specialist, bookkeeper and insurance agents.
And in Franklin, attorney Steve Huddleston makes about $2,000 per month off of apartments above his office on Jefferson Street. The five apartments are often rented by Franklin College students, and he thinks even more residents will become interested in living downtown as the city continues to make improvements, such as replacing sidewalks, and attracts new shops and businesses and possibly a grocery store.
“I think there is more of a demand, especially if we can get what the mayor has been working on as far as more retail spaces,” Huddleston said.
Both Franklin and Greenwood have been focusing on keeping shops open on their main streets downtown and restoring the historic but aging exteriors of those buildings. But new development doesn’t stop at street level, so city officials are considering new opportunities for residences or businesses upstairs.
A goal of Franklin’s long-term plan is to encourage new development, especially new apartments and condominiums, on upper levels in downtown buildings. The city has been investing millions to build new sidewalks, add more parking, and attract new shops and restaurants in recent years. Once those projects are done, Mayor Joe McGuinness expects people would be more interested in living in and walking around the downtown.
More than half of the upstairs space in Franklin is currently in use for something, whether it’s apartments, meeting rooms or offices for ground-floor businesses, McGuinness said. Almost all of the upstairs space in Greenwood’s downtown is currently in use for small offices, banquet rooms and small businesses, Mayor Mark Myers said.
“Obviously we under-utilize a lot of second and third floor space. There could be a lost opportunity there,” McGuinness said.
Some recent downtown building renovations that were funded with city tax dollars all included rehabilitating second floors for new uses. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is putting in a banquet hall above their new lodge in the former G.C. Murphy building on Jefferson Street. A developer had planned to build condominiums above shops at the former Padgett building, although the project stalled.
Several groups made proposals for the former G.C. Murphy building in downtown Franklin. But Elks exalted ruler Bob Swinehamer said he thinks his group’s plan to use the second floor as a large banquet space, which is something Franklin doesn’t have downtown, helped the Elks get selected by the city redevelopment commission. The commission, which owned the building, sold it to the Elks for $1 and is providing about $200,000 to help the organization rebuild the space.
Finding the right use for a second floor can be difficult, McGuinness said. People with disabilities can’t access those floors without an elevator, which is hard
to find in some buildings nearing 100 years old.
For example, Money’s Greenwood building has no elevator, but he has an extra conference room that all of the upstairs businesses can use for meetings or to
meet with someone who can’t climb stairs, he said. Getting upstairs without disturbing businesses on the first floor can also be a challenge without separate, accessible stairwells.
Attracting new development can also be tricky, because state building codes vary on whether features, such as costly elevators or sprinkler systems, are needed from project to project, Franklin senior planner Joanna Myers said.
The project in the former G.C. Murphy building would have been more costly, but the Elks did not need to install a new sprinkler system because the building is mostly made of steel and concrete, Swinehamer said. The Elks are putting a new elevator in the front of the building and saved $30,000 by not having to replace an elevator on the north end, which just needed repairs, he said.