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Franklin meeting gets heated over ABC facility

Franklin meeting gets heated over ABC facility

A Franklin Town Council meeting got heated as the mayor and aldermen disagreed over what steps the town should take regarding the current lease on the ABC Store.

Alderman Joe Collins pointed out that now would be a good time to explore other location options for the ABC Store since the current building lease in the Macon Plaza expires in November 2018. With the current lease costing more than $100,000 a year, Collins said he’d like to explore less expensive alternatives.

“We have a year to explore opportunities — the space is great but it’s more square footage than needed by about 1,000 feet or so,” he said. “If we do nothing we can expect to get no better of a deal than what we have now.”

With the ABC Store needing a minimum of 5,000 square feet and considering building costs right now, Collins said he believed the town could find a lot to build on and have a new building that could be paid off in seven years with the $100,000 a year it currently spends on the lease.

Collins said he tried to raise the same issue last year and just the mention of it has the current landlord wondering what the town is going to do about the lease. His suggestion was for the town board to begin working closely with the ABC board to consider other options.

“At the very least if no decision is made I’m satisfied it would be useful when it’s time to renegotiate,” Collins said. “If we don’t do something quick our hands will be tied and the landlord will have all the leverage.”

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Todd Mason, manager of the Franklin ABC Store, said he had explored other options but none of them had been a good fit for the store for one reason or another whether it was location or cost.

The K-Mart shopping center has offered space but the cost is high for being in a location with relatively low volumes of traffic — same thing with the former Walmart shopping plaza.

“The current lease — do I think it’s a little high? Yes. Do I think its unreasonable compared to other lots — no sir, because I’ve checked,” Mason said.

Collins suggested appointing a town board member to serve as a liaison to the ABC board to begin discussions about the lease and other alternatives.

Mayor Bob Scott said he didn’t think that was necessary. Since the ABC board meetings are subject to public meeting laws just like the town council, he said anyone — including town council members — are allowed to attend and offer their opinions on the matter.

“If this board is willing to believe any one of us can go to a meeting and start working with them on other options that ain’t happening,” Collins said in a more forceful tone. “This is way too much per year at a location that’s not going to be as good in the future as it is now.”

Scott said none of the town board members had a right to go to the ABC board meetings and make the board do anything, as it is a separate board appointed by the town council to conduct business.

Town Councilmember Adam Kimsey said he didn’t care if it was in the form of an official liaison but he would hate to miss the opportunity to begin the conversation with the ABC board members.

Collins insisted an appointment would be the best way to ensure the town is heard on the issue.

“Don’t say you can’t do it legally,” Collins said to Mayor Scott. “We instinctively know it’s not going to happen if we don’t appoint someone. If you don’t want to fight the battle, just say you don’t want to fight the battle.”

Scott replied by saying Collins was the one who wanted to take on the ABC Store “battle” back when he was mayor of Franklin.

“You were in favor of building a big building and the public got riled up about it,” Scott said. “I think we need some cooling off.”

Scott advised the town councilmembers to keep up with the issue and attend the ABC board meeting if they wished.

Mason invited Collins to attend the next ABC board meeting and that the board members would be happy to discuss any ideas for a new location. The ABC board meets at 8 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month.

The ABC Store location issue has been a reoccurring one in Franklin. The store has been located in the Macon Plaza since 1994 and the last attempt to move the store back in 2012 failed. Under the leadership of former Town Manager Sam Greenwood and former Mayor Joe Collins, the town planned to spend $1.25 million on a new storefront next to the Super Walmart to increase visibility and drive more sales, which ultimately benefits the town coffers.

The plan drew criticism from many residents — some believed the price tag was too high and others thought a new store should be closer to a downtown area and not in a strip mall on the outskirts of town. The plan was ultimately shut down when BB&T denied the town a bank loan stating that relying on liquor sales to make the monthly payments was too volatile to commit to a 20-year loan. The town board at the time, which included Scott, wasn’t willing to pledge tax revenue as collateral for the loan.

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