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Projects sprouting: Grants seed money for businesses

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A Franklin agency will give out more than $900,000 in tax-funded grants to pay for building repairs and renovations for homes and businesses in the city.

The Franklin Development Corp., a nonprofit organization created by the city and funded with tax dollars, awarded nine grants for projects, which have a total cost of more than $2.3 million, that must be completed within the next year.

The projects include façade improvements to downtown businesses, new parking lots, interior renovations, a new art and sculpture garden near downtown and additional funding for grants the city wants to give to low- to moderate-income residents to fix up their homes.

The grants that were awarded, which will not need to be repaid, range from $245,000 to downtown business owner and former Franklin Mayor Fred Paris to renovate two downtown buildings for a new restaurant, to $6,000 to pay for a  façade project for a computer repair company that plans to open on North Main Street.

The money will come from the organization’s projects fund, which was part of more than $5 million the city gave the group when it was first set up in 2008. The funding came from tax dollars in tax-increment financing districts, which set aside property taxes collected from certain businesses for economic development projects.

City officials and members of the group’s board are now discussing restructuring the organization, which will have about $1 million in funds left after the grants are given out. The discussions may change who serves on the board and for how long and how the group will be funded, since money for operating expenses is expected to run out this year. This week, the chief executive officer, Craig Wells, resigned.

Who will monitor and administer the new grants and existing loans and grants will be decided in those discussions. For now, a city employee, community development director Krista Linke, will manage the projects, board president Larry Koenes said.

Earlier this year, the development agency asked for proposals for how to spend $1.3 million in grant funding for projects that focused on improving the downtown or bringing new economic development. The board received 12 proposals from local groups and businesses. Two proposals were rejected by the board, and one proposal to construct assisted living apartments for patients being treated for mental illness was withdrawn.

The requirement for all but one of the projects that received grants is to be completed within 12 months. Franklin Development Corp. will reimburse property owners as the money is spent on projects.

The board considered a variety of projects, and the projects that were approved meet the board’s goals to help pay for building renovations in the city, attract new business and revitalize the downtown, Koenes said.

“It’s going to bring more employment downtown and bring more traffic downtown,” Koenes said.

Two of the projects approved were to help new businesses planning to locate in the downtown:

Geek in Pink, a computer repair company with locations in Fishers and Greenwood, will spend about $167,000 to open a repair shop at 25 N. Main St. The company is asking for $5,889 for  façade improvements.

Gray Goat Sports, $80,000 to remodel the first floor of the Hazelett building on East Court Street and open a cycling shop.

Most of the other approved projects involve building or home renovations, including  façade upgrades, roof repairs and interior remodeling.

The organization approved giving $100,000 to the city as part of a $350,000 housing rehabilitation grant the city is pursuing. That state grant, along with local funds from the Franklin Development Corp., the city redevelopment commission and other local groups, will help at least 23 low- to moderate-income homeowners make repairs, accessibility improvements and weatherization or energy efficiency upgrades.

Franklin Heritage will get $100,000 to make roof repairs at the Artcraft Theatre and complete renovations on the former Madison Street Hotel building. The group first has to raise the other $200,000 needed. Franklin Heritage director Rob Shilts said an anonymous donor already has promised $150,000 toward the projects.

Jeff Street Pub was awarded $197,550 to renovate the  façade and replace the roof on the three-story downtown building.

Dan Paris, who owns the former White Star service station at Walnut and Jefferson streets, was given $75,000 to renovate the exterior of historic building.

Fred Paris was given $245,000 to help renovate two buildings at 188-176 W. Jefferson St., which could become a restaurant with outdoor dining and event space after he buys the buildings. A brewer has expressed interest in the building, Paris said. The state is doing an environmental cleanup at the former Sparkle Cleaners site after chemicals flowed out of the building during the 2008 flood. Because the state may need six months or longer to finish that work, the board gave Paris up to 18 months to complete the renovation project.

Richard and Meg Goss got $90,000 to build a new arts garden north of Richard’s Market on South Main Street. The garden would include a small hedge maze and sculptures from local artists, as well as new downtown parking. The garden and parking lot would become city parks property after built.

The owners of Marshmallow Monkey vintage shop on East Jefferson Street were given $13,519 to build a nine-space parking lot on property next door to the shop, which used to be a barbecue restaurant that burned in 2011. The lot could be used for parking by other

businesses in the downtown area.

Board members rejected two proposals after deciding neither fit the criteria of the grant program.

Franklin Community School Corp. submitted an idea to build a $620,000 fieldhouse with an indoor playing field, but board members felt the project would primarily benefit the schools and not the entire community. The school district requested $270,000.

Indianapolis-based Keystone Group asked for $1.2 million to help with funding to build a three-story building with first-floor shops and two levels of luxury apartments. The project would have taken all of the available funding, Wells said. Board members decided to send the project to the city’s redevelopment commission for consideration, since that group owns the former Oren Wright site.

What is the Franklin Development Corp.?

Here is a closer look at the Franklin Development Corp.:

Why it was founded: The agency was formed as a nonprofit organization by the Franklin City Council, redevelopment commission and economic development commission in 2008. Officials at the time said their goals were for the agency to rehabilitate rundown homes and businesses, especially around downtown. Their hope was that one project would spur work in an entire neighborhood. The agency also could help fund larger projects, such as developing new gateways into the city.

How it was funded: The city committed $5.6 million, with $5 million for projects and $600,000 to cover operating expenses for three years. The money comes from the city’s tax-increment financing districts. The special taxing districts collect property taxes from certain businesses and set the money aside traditionally for infrastructure projects to promote economic development. With the money set aside, the taxes don’t go to fund local government, such as schools, fire departments and libraries.

What does it do? The agency offers low-interest loans and grants to home and business owners to improve their properties. The agency also can assist local developers on projects and can offer incentives to companies looking to move to or expand in the city.

Who oversees the agency? The agency has a seven-member board of directors and a chief executive officer. Under the organization’s bylaws, the board members serve four-year terms, and then the board selects new members when needed. In order to maintain a link between the city and the agency, the board includes at least one member from the city council, economic development commission and redevelopment commission. The agency’s bylaws currently do not include a provision for the city boards that appointed members to remove the current member and select a new one.

Future changes: Board members and city officials are planning to reorganize the group by changing who appoints board members and how long they serve. The city also may provide some additional funding in the future for operating costs. The organizations chief executive officer Craig Wells resigned this month.

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