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Plans for vacant downtown building on hold

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A building in downtown Franklin owned by a city board remains empty after plans to turn it into a banquet hall or visitor center were dropped.

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce had been working with city officials on a proposal to add a visitors center, café and offices to the building, but it withdrew that plan because it couldn’t afford the project.

The former G.C. Murphy building on East Jefferson Street has been government-owned since 2009, meaning property taxes aren’t being paid on the building. The vacant building was purchased by the county as potential office space after county offices were damaged in the 2008 flood, was traded to Franklin in a land swap and given to the redevelopment commission in 2011.

Late last year, the redevelopment commission requested proposals to purchase and redevelop the building. The board received two proposals, but both were dropped. So the commission is once again seeking a way to sell the building.

“We’re kind of moving sideways I suppose. We took bids on it, took requests for proposals and those didn’t work out. We’re kind of not doing anything with it right now,” redevelopment commission member Bob Heuchan said.

The commission will discuss the building at its next meeting Jan. 17 and will discuss ideas for how to market the building, board member Rob Henderson said.

The board has gotten some inquiries about the building recently, but no proposals have been submitted to the commission, Heuchan said.

The commission turned down a proposal from Franklin resident Jim Cruser to use the building as a banquet hall because board members had concerns about his ability to get funding to complete the project.

The chamber of commerce proposed the city board continue to own the building and asked the Franklin Development Corp., a city-formed not-for-profit organization, for $581,400 for repairs, renovations and the first year of operation. The development corporation did not approve that request.

Chamber executive director Tricia Bechman said the idea was dropped because the organization wouldn’t be able to afford the project. Chamber officials never received an estimate of the total cost, which would have included creating a storefront for local art, a coffee shop, space for the chamber office, additional office space and locations for small business startups.

“We hadn’t even gotten that far when we realized that it was going to be more than we could do. We felt that we had to step away,” Bechman said.

The redevelopment commission’s goal is to sell the building and have a business begin paying taxes on it and improve the condition of the property. The building could be worth more than $500,000 once fully renovated, Henderson said.

The redevelopment commission paid to install a new roof and remove mold from the basement. The Franklin Development Corp. also has offered up to $100,000 to help renovate the building facade once purchased, Henderson said.

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said he’d like to see the location become additional downtown retail space, such as a grocery store or meat market. McGuinness also supported the idea of having office space to encourage small business start-ups and said that could be a way for the city to spur growth.

“We’re providing a lot of incentives for the large corporations. Maybe G.C. Murphy is that location for small business,” he said.

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