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Progress slows on city projects

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Four projects being paid for with more than $1.2 million in tax dollars were approved about a year ago, but only half have been completed.

Last year, the Franklin Development Corp. agreed to give out grants and loans to four projects that would improve and redevelop areas of the city. The organization, which was created and funded by the city, has paid out about half the money, but two of the projects are not finished and are behind schedule.

Indianapolis developer Indreno is working to renovate 97 E. Monroe St., the historic Alexander carriage shop, into three shops on the first floor and three condominiums on the second floor. But the developer is waiting to get the state to approve building plans before construction can start.

And a group of four local organizations is waiting for the results of two studies on whether forming a nonprofit sports corporation could attract more visitors to the city for sporting events.

The Franklin Development Corp. has yet to pay out $599,000 for the two projects, which were approved by board members in October. Both projects originally were expected to be completed within a year, but officials say that is unlikely.

The agency is now going through a reorganization, and six of the seven board members who approved the projects have resigned. The remaining original member, John Ditmars, and

six new board members — two of whom have yet to be appointed — will review the two projects. Members need to learn about all of the organization’s projects before any decisions are made, Ditmars said. Both projects are moving forward, albeit slowly, he said.

The board is considering changing how it distributes money for projects. Previously, the Franklin Development Corp. would pay money out before materials were purchased or work was completed, such as with the work Indreno is doing.

The group now wants to start paying money only after receiving copies of invoices or checks that show work was done.

Neither agreement with the development corporation had a specific timeline for when the projects need to be done, Franklin community development director Krista Linke said. But the Indreno project was expected to be completed by August, and a report on the sports corporation was supposed to be ready around July.

The sports corporation study could be completed by the end of October, Franklin Community Schools executive director of finance Jeff Mercer said.

But construction on the Monroe Street building is expected to take at least six months once it begins, and developer Jake Griffin doesn’t have an estimate on when the state will grant approval and work can begin.

Two other projects totaling $451,000 helped Ivy Tech Community College purchase land to expand its Franklin campus in the future and allowed Franklin College to open a café at 66 Water St.

Those projects were completed this year.

Most of the money that has not been spent is going toward the former Alexander carriage shop building. The board approved a $275,000 grant and $500,000 loan to the developer, who planned to renovate the historic building to house a martini bar, shops and upstairs condos.

Some interior demolition work was completed on the project, but the exterior remains the same and no remodeling has started inside, Griffin said. The organization has paid out $200,000 of the $500,000 loan so far.

The project has been stalled since the spring because the state needs to approve the building plans and hasn’t yet. The state approval is required because the work is being funded with public funds from the Franklin Development Corp., which was funded with $5 million from the city’s tax-increment financing districts, Griffin said. The list of information the state requires includes electrical systems, engineering, plumbing, fire suppression and the exterior layout.

“All of those things have to be well-documented,” Griffin said. “It’s one of those things where you go to their office with a piece of paper, and they turn you away and tell you to bring back a different piece of paper.”

The Franklin Development Corp. also paid $26,000 for a study to explore whether starting a nonprofit sports corporation in Franklin would be financially beneficial to the city. If the plan looked promising, the development agency would provide another $24,000 for the organization’s startup costs.

The money originally was funding a $9,100 study from Indiana University professor Bruce Jaffe, but the group working on the sports corporation project ordered a second report costing $25,000 from the National Association of Sports Commissions, Mercer said.

The study by Jaffe is looking at the financial impact of current sporting events, such as high school sports, Franklin College events and youth leagues in the city. That study asks people where they’re from, whether they are staying overnight in the city and where they spend money before or after the events, Mercer said.

The sports corporation group, which consists of Franklin Community Schools, city of Franklin, Franklin College and Johnson Memorial Hospital, planned to submit that report to board members to determine whether forming a new nonprofit would be worthwhile.

But Mercer said the sports corporation group thought it would be better to provide as much information to board members as possible. The second study is taking an inventory of current facilities in the city and what expansions or new facilities could help the city attract more visitors.

“It was our belief that having both studies done on the front end might make long-term planning more clear,” Mercer said.

Since the cost of the second study will cost more than the initial $26,000 the group received for the project, Mercer said, the school district and city will pay the rest.

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