Sold, white elephant


City Hall planned to finalize the sale of the St. Clair Street parking garage this morning after reviewing two bids on the property. Mike Templeman, a retired coal executive/Frankfort property owner, offered $51,500 and Dunn & Son LLC, owned by Joe Dunn of Frankfort, bid $25,500. Templeman’s bid was approved.
Neither came close to what the city has spent on the garage since the 1970s. The sale price seems a steal for a prime piece of real estate in the center of Frankfort, but downtown property doesn’t always come at a premium, especially when it carries some heavy baggage as this white elephant does. The buyers will be expected to do what the city itself has been unable or unwilling to do: repair a parking facility that opened almost 40 years ago with the assignment to serve as a keystone in revitalization of the central business district. The garage was more than half-empty most of the time and had badly deteriorated when the city closed it five years ago.
One big condition set out for the buyer is that the parking garage must remain a parking garage. Tearing it down for replacement with a surface lot is forbidden. The invitation to bid stipulated that the new owner has to renovate and repair the entire garage and reopen it no later than Sept. 30, 2013, and it further requires that the facility remain open  as a garage at least 10 years thereafter. A minimum of 35 spaces must be reserved for use by the Franklin County Judicial Center, which will bring employees back from a temporary location in West Frankfort upon completion of the new courthouse next year. The county will get to use those parking spaces at no charge.
Now, assuming no last-minute complications arise and the real estate papers are executed within the requisite seven days after bid acceptance, we’ll look to find out what the future holds for a building constructed atop the ashes of  Frankfort’s last dime store. Templeman hopes his experience owning several tracts of local property will prepare him to meet the challenge, but he acknowledged the amount he bid is far short of what’s needed to get the rundown garage fixed up and back in business. Past estimates have ranged from $1 million to $2 million-plus, depending on how thoroughly the renovators do their work.
Before putting that much money into the project, someone – the city, Downtown Frankfort Inc. or the new owner – should have a feasibility study done to determine how many motorists can realistically be expected to patronize the garage once it reopens. Then funding must fall into place. It’s been suggested the garage owner could get a break if the city declares the central business district (or some portion thereof) a blighted area so it could quality for tax-increment financing. TIF, a government program, reduces taxes on property for a specified period to spur development.
The new owner hopefully will have better luck than the city – and private investors in the commercial space on ground level – in drawing and retaining business. Making the site attractive to parkers and shoppers could be a game changer for the entire downtown area.
However, a private takeover doesn’t asssure success. The 1910-vintage Old Y on Bridge Street, for example, continues to languish after several changes of ownership. The garage is an eyesore without redeeming historic value, so there’s no excuse for code inspectors to look the other way when violations persist. That said, we hope better days lie ahead for the garage and for downtown Frankfort.

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