Franklin’s $650,000 renovation stalled as city plans to fire contractor

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FRANKLIN, Ind.– When Franklin city officials, armed with $650,000 of state and local money, pitched downtown property owners on a plan to fix up their storefronts, businessmen liken Stephen Huddleston were thrilled.

“It was one of those things you normally wouldn’t do as a private owner,” said Huddleston who has been a lawyer on Franklin’s West Jefferson Street since 1980. “It made what I thought was great impact for downtown Franklin trying to get restoration back to where it was before.”

Huddleston said to replace the crumbling mortar between his late 1800’s brick would have cost him $40,000, so when Advanced Restoration Contractors of Indianapolis began work on his two-story building last fall, he envisioned a cozy winter across the street from the Johnson County Courthouse.

Instead, he walked into a freezing office and a secretary bundled up in sweaters with a space heater at her desk.

“When I came back the second week of January and walked into the office on Monday morning, my temperature gauge showed it was 56 degrees in here…and I thought, ‘Wow! Big change!'”

The restoration company never replaced the mortar, subzero temperatures gripped central Indiana and high winds whistled through the law offices.

After complaints, workers came out and tacked plastic across the front of Huddleston’s building where it’s now 64 degrees.

Since the renovation began, workers have lost Huddleston’s brass signs, UPS packages have gone undelivered since he no longer had an address on the building, his ornamental lighting has been broken and the renovators said if he wanted to pay for the electricity to heat up the outside of his building, they would be glad to replace the mortar, which should have been in place months ago.

“It’s been really difficult getting work done,” said Huddleston. “It seems to go backward instead of forwards as far as the restoration work goes.”

Down the street at Mike Lock’s office, the insurance man pulls out artist renderings and blueprints that show what his building should have looked like by now.

“We were going to be getting a whole new storefront,” he said, looking at the sketches. “This is a picture of that with some new windows upstairs. There’s some architectural work that need to be repaired and any sort of mortar work that was crumbling and falling apart was going to be repaired also with some doors and signage up there for everybody.”

Along Jefferson Street there are scaffolding and plastic sheeting and torn down signs and no sign of progress.

“I worry about it every day. It’s something we look forward to and it’s kind of depressing to come up every day and see your building torn apart with no progress being made,” said Lock. “I was told back in the fall that they were planning for putting the new facade up in mid-December. I’ve been given no updates since then.

“I have no faith at this point in further progress.”

No one answered the door when FOX 59 visited the Advanced Restoration Contractors office at 141 South Sherman Avenue Tuesday, but the panicked company did make calls to city officials.

Mayor Joe McGuinness said that’s exactly the problem.

“The contractor has been very disappointing for us and, in my opinion, has not fulfilled their end of the deal and the obligation,” said Mayor McGuinness. “But as far as the payments to be processed for what work has or hasn’t been done, that hasn’t been processed.”

McGuiness said the city will fire Advanced Restoration Contractors Wednesday and seek a contractor that can finish the façade project by Memorial Day.