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Courthouse renovation ongoing, DNA opposes commercial use

Williamson County is revamping its Historic Courthouse at 305 Public Square in Franklin, but plans to solicit commercial users from some areas has drawn opposition of downtown neighbors.

The top floor of the courthouse will be used for judicial functions, though it would not be able to accommodate jury trials.
“It’s not equipped to be an active courtroom,” said County Commission Chairman Houston Naron at a special courthouse committee meeting on Thursday. “It’s historic. We’re going to protect it.

“We’re not, and I repeat, we are not refurbishing it for anything other than making it available for community use,” Naron said.

The Courthouse, built in 1858, is one of seven antebellum courthouses in the state. It was used as the federal headquarters during the Civil War and a hospital during the Battle of Franklin.

Naron said the courthouse will have historical photographs as well the evidence of the historical fire, tornado and other incidences that the courthouse has withstood through time.

The project is expected to take about 12 months to complete, and it should begin in about 30 to 60 days, said County Property Manager Al Ritter.

“It depends on when we can get all the contracts signed,” Ritter said. “We would hope to be finished by the winter holidays next year.”

The request for proposals from parties interested in leasing the two lower floors was issued last week and are due in the Mayor’s office by 2 p.m. on Oct. 21. These two floors will have separate entrances and private, finished restrooms with electrical and HVAC in place.

There will be an elevated connector, so that the tenants will remain separated from the Williamson County judicial department and there will not be as much security needed, Ritter said.

The available space is approximately 21,785 square feet, though the actual dimensions may change.

The request for proposal read,  “The tenant is responsible for providing and completing build-out of the leased space pursuant to the requirements and restrictions contained in the Contract Documents.”

Private corporations and businesses are encouraged to send proposals, though the county reserves the right to refuse all proposals.

The proposals will be evaluated in a competitive selection point process. The conduciveness of the proposed business to Williamson County operation will be given a score out of 50 points, the monthly rent will be scored out of 30 points and the sufficiency of the proposer’s financial resources can have a total of up to 20 points.

Ritter said the evaluation process should take about one to two weeks.

The initial lease term would be 10 years, with the possibility of a five-year extension at the county’s discretion.

In a memo Sept. 8 to the Williamson County Commission's Special Courthouse Committee, Downtown Franklin Neighborhood Association President David Morris voiced the group's "strong opposition" to use of the facility by commercial ventures although he applauded restoration of the courthouse.

"On behalf of Franklin's Downtown Neighborhood Association, I want to thank you for the work the committee has done on the restoration of the Old Courthouse. Our membership has told us time and again how important our historic public buildings are to the entire community," Morris said. 

"The decision to architecturally complement the new Judicial Center with the historic Courthouse is a testament to the work you have done to incorporate the old with the new to create our unique sense of place downtown," Morris  wrote. "That is why we were alarmed to learn of the RFP under development to consider a commercial use of the courthouse. The Downtown Neighborhood Association hereby voices our strong opposition to any commercial use of the courthouse.

Calling the Courthouse is a symbol of Historic Franklin and Williamson County, Morris said it is the most important building on the Square "and represents all that we have done as a community to preserve and restore our heritage. 

"No one who cares about our county's rich history and heritage would like to see our Courthouse turned into a commercial enterprise," he said. "We urge you to use this building in the way that it was intended by the Commission when the restoration was approved:  as a public building for all of the citizens of Williamson County.  You have our full support and our greatest admiration for the work you have done as public servants and as stewards of our historic public buildings downtown."

In addition to a monthly rent payment, the tenant is expected to pay the build-out cost.

All electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems will be replaced.

The plans for the project will be available for viewing at 1320 W. Main St., Suite 103, in Franklin.

Posted on: 9/18/2008


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