City transfers building to Highground
Published 9:32 am Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Highground Services Inc. has graduated from the Franklin Business Incubator and its $3 million-plus payroll remains in Downtown Franklin at the town’s former power and light plant. But the transfer didn’t come easy.
On Oct. 27, Franklin City Attorney Taylor Williams stood before the City Council to let them know that somewhere along the way the city had allowed the power and light plant to expand into the public’s right of way on Mechanic Street.
If you turn on the street off of Second Avenue and continue, you will at some point have to bear a left turn. That’s not the way it has always been.
“This issue came up recently when we found an old map,” Williams said. “Mechanic Street continues on a straight path to the railroad except for the fact that the power and light building is in the right of way.”
He said he doesn’t have a reason why, but at some point the city built an addition to the power and light building, and when they did they built it on the right of way. The best practice, when you do that, is to vacate the public’s right of way, Williams said. The lawyer searched the records through old minutes at both the Southampton County Courthouse and the state’s library in Richmond, and he couldn’t find where the city had vacated the public’s right of way.
“I suspect that the town council was aware of the error,” Williams said. “There were efforts made to purchase land to serve as an addition of the current Mechanic Street, which is where the street curves left and goes around the corner to connect to Jackson Street.”
Since no business would be affected by the switch, the city attorney suggested vacating that section of Mechanic Street, and place that half of the building back onto property owned by the City of Franklin.
After hearing that, Ward 3’s Greg McLemore also wanted to make sure that the city had a record of actually purchasing the land that the original portion of the power and light plant is on.
Williams said the land was originally owned by John Pretlow Jr., and there is a record of his estate selling a portion of the land in 1902. Further, in 1906, the city bought the rest of the land that the power and light building sits own, save the right of way of Mechanic Street.
After a 5-0 vote with Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn absent due to a death in the family and Ward 2’s Benny Burgess abstaining, the council vacated the right of way and transferred the property to the City of Franklin.
The next item on the docket was selling the property to Highground Services Inc.
After the paper mill closed, former interim city manager June Fleming said Franklin was torn apart. It destroyed families, destroyed people’s lives and brought Franklin to an extreme low in economic development terms.
Some people pulled their lives together by changing careers or leaving Franklin, Fleming said.
“But one strong band of people believed in Franklin, believed in themselves, and believed in the potential still here,” she said.
That would be Highground, which started their own company in Franklin’s Business Incubator. They’ve won awards and have come to be known not only in Hampton Roads, but around several states.
With that success, Fleming said they also take their social responsibility to the city seriously.
“They give and give and give to community,” she said. “You cannot go around and not find someone from Highground giving and doing in the community. They do it because they believe in themselves, and they believe in Franklin.”
With the alternative being letting the power and light building continue to rot and let Highground Services Inc. potentially move to another town, she said their was only one choice before city council.
“You could look at more stats, more comparisons, analysis or more staff studies,” Fleming said. “You could do that all night. But one answer is loud and clear… This is the right decision to make tonight.”
When Warren Beale Jr., chairman of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc., stood up next, he said he may as well sit back down because Fleming said everything. But he; Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority Director Philip Page Jr.; city resident Chuck Bradshaw; Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Teresa Beale; incubator advisory board member Lauren Harper; and FSEDI CEO Amanda Jarratt all echoed similar sentiments.
The city council agreed with what had been and voted 5-0 to sell the property.