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Visitors center idea gets new look - Committee forming to revisit proposal for vacant building

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Two proposals to redevelop a vacant downtown Franklin building have been turned down, but one is being reconsidered by city officials.

The Franklin Redevelopment Commission asked for proposals on how to redevelop the former G.C. Murphy building on Jefferson Street and received two proposals. A local resident proposed using the building as a banquet hall and catering facility, and a group of local agencies proposed a visitors center and office space.

Both proposals asked for funding or other assistance from the commission, which oversees the spending of property taxes collected from certain businesses and typically spent on economic development.

Members of the commission turned down both proposals, but the idea of adding a visitors center and office space is getting another look. Commission members, the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, members of the Franklin Development Corp. and city officials are forming a committee to consider and tweak the proposal to see if it can be approved.

One of the ideas they are considering is finding a way to have the Franklin Chamber of Commerce own the building, instead of a city board or city government, board members said.

Resident Jim Cruiser proposed that the commission give him the building and he would get a loan from it or elsewhere to remodel the inside and turn it into a banquet hall. Members of the commission turned down that proposal, raising concerns that they didn’t have enough details about finances and Cruiser did not yet have a loan for the work.

The initial proposal from the Franklin Chamber of Commerce was for a visitors center and office space for the organization and for small or start-up businesses in the city.

Their request was for the commission to continue to own the building and pay utilities and maintenance expenses for five years. Then, the agency and the commission could discuss who would own the building, based on costs and how much money was collected from rent in new office spaces.

Another option was to have the city of Franklin own the building, said Bob Heuchan, commission member.

The city had owned the building before transferring the property to the commission in 2011. The city got the building from the county in a land-swap deal, where the city traded the former police station for property the county owed.

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce had also asked the Franklin Development Corp. for $581,400 to help pay to repair, upgrade and remodel the building and to run the visitors center for the first year. That request was not approved by the organization, which was created and funded by the city, because the group did not own the building. But Franklin Development Corp. board members said they could consider the proposal again in the future

The commission did not approve the chamber of commerce proposal, with members wanting more information and to see if the project could be done with less involvement from the city.

Mayor Joe McGuinness said he did not support having the city own the building and being responsible for the costs of maintenance, repairs and utilities.

“There’s where my concern comes in is where we start talking about money,” he said.

McGuinness said the city could still be involved in the project, but he wanted more details on what was being requested.

He would like to see another group own the building eventually, instead of the city or the commission owning a vacant property.

Commission member Rob Henderson said he wanted to discuss options where the chamber of commerce would own the building, because the commission’s ownership was one of the issues raised by the Franklin Development Corp. when they turned down their request for funding.

Franklin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tricia Bechman said she is unsure of what the other options might be but is hopeful that the project to open a visitors center and office space is still a possibility.

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