As drivers enter Franklin’s business park, one of the first things they see are the burned remains of a building tucked between manufacturers and office buildings.
The building at 191 Commerce Drive used to house three businesses, but it burned down the day after a large snowstorm in January. Seven months later, the scorched northern half of the building and collapsed southern end have not been torn down.
The holdup is because an insurance company is still investigating what caused the fire, community development specialist Rhoni Oliver said. Franklin Fire Department also had looked into the fire but closed its investigation in early April without being able to determine a cause. The Jan. 6 fire started in the northeast corner of the building, but investigators weren’t able to definitively say what sparked it because snow and ice damaged any evidence.
City officials aren’t pushing to get it demolished because they don’t want to interfere with the ongoing investigation, although the building is an eyesore and safety hazard.
Franklin has filed a demolition order and wants to get the burned remains cleared as soon as possible because it could collapse further, Oliver said. The city isn’t as concerned about squatters or someone getting injured inside the building, because the building was properly fenced off shortly after the fire, she said.
Oliver wasn’t sure how much longer the insurance investigators will be working on the building, but it could drag on due to the size of the building and amount of damage, she said. The demolition also might be delayed due to a separate investigation into Complete Hydraulic Service and Sales, whose owner Randy Brown also owns 191 Commerce Drive, she said. FBI agents seized financial records from the business in May after Franklin police had forwarded the agency multiple complaints from customers about the business.
Brown and his attorney Mark Busby did not return phone calls on Tuesday.
Once the lot is cleared, Mayor Joe McGuinness expects a new business will quickly buy and build on the lot. The mayor already has talked to a few developers that have asked about redeveloping the lot, including one nearby business that could expand into the space, he said.
The building is located near the entry to the city’s business park off U.S. 31, an area that has become home to various types of businesses including a fiberoptic telecommunication company, an electrician and a CrossFit studio. The area also has become a location for two new developments, such as when Hillcroft Services moved to a new building near Graham Road near the beginning of the year.
“That has become a pretty vibrant commercial corridor, and if you remove that building, it won’t be vacant for long,” McGuinness said.