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Grants fund face-lifts to restore historic feel

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Eight downtown Franklin buildings will get a new look as soon as this spring with the help of local and state grants.

The buildings, including a restaurant, theater and three attorney offices, were constructed in the early 1900s and have been remodeled. But business owners say the renovations used designs from different eras and made the buildings look out of place.

The business owners are getting $450,000 from a state grant the city applied for and from an agency created by the city. The money would pay to replace awnings, fix cracked bricks and redo storefronts to make the buildings look more like they originally did.

Architects are working on designs for the work that will be done and working with business owners on what they want.

Business owners and city officials hope the improvements will give the area a more uniform style and will draw more people to downtown Franklin.

“I think the historic look is what the city is looking for. There aren’t very many of the older buildings left. At least we can make those reminiscent of what they were,” Lighthouse Antique Mall co-owner John Emry said.

The business owners who received the grants were chosen through a study done in 2011, said Craig Wells, president and chief executive officer of Franklin Development Corp., which is helping pay for the projects.

In the study, engineers looked at more than 60 buildings downtown and offered suggestions to owners about how they could improve their buildings, such as by replacing windows and doors. The engineers also did more work on designs to renovate nine buildings that have a larger impact or are more visible in the community, and eight of those are receiving money to do renovations, Wells said.

The state grant, called the Main Street Revitalization Grant, will pay for $250,000 of renovations. Franklin Development Corp., which was formed and funded by the city, is putting $200,000 toward the project, and the Johnson County Community Foundation is providing $2,000.

The businesses each will pay 5 percent of the cost.

DLZ, an architect firm in Indianapolis, is working on designs for the eight buildings and, in upcoming weeks, will speak with the business owners about what they want to include, Franklin Director of Operations Matt Zimmerman said.

To meet the requirements of the state grant, Designs must be finished by the end of March and the city has to issue permits for construction by the end of May. Work on the buildings will begin after the permits are issued, and it has to be finished by the end of next year.

Local business owners say the improvements will include a renovated marquee at the Artcraft Theatre, new siding for Lighthouse Antique Mall and a new overhang for Shelter Insurance, all of which they say couldn’t have afforded without help from the state and local grants.

The development agency agreed to help pay for the projects because one of its goals is to help downtown business owners renovate their buildings, Wells said.

Before the city applied for the grant, building owners were asked if they would be interested in doing renovations and if they’d be willing to pay for part of the costs, Zimmerman said. Only one business owner declined.

Since then, some business owners have been saving money to pay their portion of the costs. The exact amount the businesses will have to pay will not be determined until the designs are final, Zimmerman said.

Franklin Heritage Inc. has set aside money to help renovate the Artcraft Theatre’s marquee, which the organization had wanted to renovate along with the front of the theater in 2009 but did not have enough money to finish, organization executive director Rob Shilts said.

Renovations to the marquee will include replacing its glass panels, putting in a new roof and repainting the metal to match the red on other areas of the building. Some panels on the marquee are missing, and water from the roof leaks onto the theater’s posters below, Shilts said.

Construction on the marquee will start this spring, and Shilts said he thinks visitors to the theater will like the finished look.

“I think they’ll see a complete package,” he said. “Right now, you notice the front of the façade looks great, but the marquee doesn’t exactly match up with all of that.”

Sharp Graphics owner Charles Hessman said the grants will allow him to finish renovations he had started.

In recent years, he has remodeled the inside of the building and repaired the roof, but he ran out of money before renovating the front of the building.

With the grants, he said, Sharp Graphics will get new windows and doors as well as upgrades to the building’s brick front, which currently leaks when it rains.

“It’s a neat old building, but old buildings are expensive,” Hessman said.

Most of the buildings that are getting money from the grants, including Don and Dona’s restaurant and Eggers Woods and Huddleston and Huddleston law offices, will get new windows and brick repairs so that they look more uniform.

Jeff Eggers, co-owner of Eggers Woods, said he agreed to do the renovations for that reason, because he thinks a consistent look will make the businesses more attractive to customers.

“It’s everybody’s benefit if downtown is doing well,” he said. “It’s more of a civic thing than personal, I guess.”

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