The Franklin Board of Aldermen held its annual retreat last Saturday to discuss actions that could be taken in the future to aid in the town's economic development.
Town-owned vacant properties, particularly the old town hall building, have received plenty of attention ever since last year's retreat. The board previously decided to try and sell the piece of property, but after only receiving one bid of $150,000, well below the tax value, the talks of selling it have gone quiet.
“We can continue to do what we've been doing,” said Town Manager Warren Cabe. “We've got an advertisement on the webpage and I've talked to Economic Development Commission (EDC) director Tommy Jenkins to push it every chance he gets to get somebody into it. Any chance that I get, I tell people who may be interested that we have this great piece of property for sale.”
Cabe suggested that the board may want to consider other options like engaging a realtor to help sell the property, but cited the risk of alienating local agents.
“We need to sell the building, but from what I see at work there's just nothing out there,” said Alderman Billy Mashburn.
The idea of leasing the property was explored next, but the board veered away from the idea after a short discussion.
“I'm a little hesitant of being in the leasing business,” said Cabe.
“If they tear it up then we have to go back in there and fix it,” said Mashburn. “I don't know, at least in the short term, I would be okay with it being used for storage. We could let Jay [Gibson] keep a couple of back-hoes out there just in case it snows or something like that. We need to get some use out of it.”
Alderman Barbara McRae suggested that the board consider the type of business that they would like to see move in there and modify the building to attract those businesses.
“I think we just need to keep doing what we're doing,” said Alderman Verlin Curtis.
Cabe sought to connect the issue of vacant buildings with the town's economic development. Working with Jenkins of the EDC, Cabe described the strategy that is being carried out by the two entities in an attempt to get other, privately owned vacant properties filled with businesses.
“We regularly discuss the empty buildings and what we can do to get people into those structures. We currently have one on Main Street that he and I discuss on a regular basis,” said Cabe. “You all did a retail analysis and there's at least one business in town that came to be because of that analysis.”
The Retail Marketing analysis that Cabe refers to details needs that exist in the town in hopes of attracting an entrepreneur who may want to fill that need.
“There are things available for folks that are interested in doing business in the town. We've done the legwork for them and said 'look here's where the needs are,” he said. “My question to you, is, is there anything that we're missing? Is there anything else that we can do to help economic development?”
Alderman Patti Abel cited a trend that she sees in locals who make a habit of going to surrounding towns to enjoy their restaurants.
“We need a good restaurant downtown,” she said. “I see people going to Clayton, Sylva, and Waynesville for dinner. We're losing those tax dollars.”
Discussion of a brewery that had shown interest in the vacant property on Main Street held the board over until McRae suggested an idea that she had seen in another small town in the midwestern part of the U.S.
“What about art galleries? Promoting the arts creates a lot of buzz. At a fundraiser, I heard about a town in Montana that used vacant buildings to host art shows. Ideas like that could be exciting,” she said.
As the meeting wound down, Cabe touched on the upcoming budget sessions that were to come, pointing at the sound audit Franklin received at its previous Board of Aldermen meeting.
Mayor Bob Scott suggested that the board hold similar meetings at various times throughout the year before he closed the town retreat out. The next aldermen meeting will take place on Monday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. at town hall.