Brittney Parker – Staff Writer The Franklin Town Board of Aldermen have requested that the ABC Committee identify three possible locations for the Town's ABC store to relocate to before they make a decision on whether or not to renew the current store’s lease.
For the past 17 years, the store has been leasing a 6,500 square foot space from Macon Plaza for approximately $6,069.76 per month. In December, Todd Mason, ABC store manager, informed the Town Aldermen that Centro Properties Group (the firm responsible for managing the plaza) proposed raising the monthly rent by 10 percent when the store's lease is up next November.
“With the way the economy is right now, I am surprised they aren't offering to lower the rent 10 percent just to keep the store there,” said Mayor Joe Collins.
During Monday night’s regularly scheduled board meeting, Pat Pattillo, a member of the committee charged with finding a new location, as well as a member of the ABC Board, informed the Aldermen that 17 possible sites had been considered for relocating the store in order to avoid such high payments. Of the 17 sites identified by the ABC Committee, which is comprised of Aldermen Farrell Jamison and Verlin Curtis, Town Manger Sam Greenwood, Pattillio and Mason, informed the Town Board that a site near the new Walmart location would be an “ideal” area to build a new store.
Mayor Collins noted that he believes it would be more beneficial for the Town to own the store rather than just lease it and receive a portion of the profits. “I am confident that it would be more cost efficient for the Town to own the building and the property and I think now is a good time to make that transition,” said Collins. “I just think we owe it to taxpayers to have more than one site to look at. It will help keep things competitive and give us choices.”
Alderman Bob Scott stated that he was apprehensive about owning a building because the long term upkeep to the building may be more of a hassle than it is worth. “10 years down the road when the roof starts to leak, if you own the building its your responsibility to pay to fix it. If you lease it, thats the landlord’s problem,” said Scott. “I am just not so sure owning the building is our best option.”
According to Collins, after the ABC Committee identifies two sites in addition to the new Walmart location, the Town Board can better evaluate the pros and cons of owning versus leasing a new store.
Location and Design
Jamison and Pattillio travelled to various ABC stores in neighboring counties throughout Western North Carolina to get a better understanding of the design and size of the ABC store. Of the sites they visited in Buncombe and Henderson counties, Jamison noted that about 80 percent of the stores are owned rather than leased, with those who currently leasing being “new to the game and just starting out with their stores.”
By visiting the various sites, the committee determined that a 6,500 square foot model would be ideal for the new store. Although the current store is right around 6,500 square feet and has more space than needed right now, the extra space will allow the store to more easily grow in the future if demand requires it.
Jamison and Pattillio looked at stores with open floor planes and high ceilings, some with predominantly glass walls, some brick models, and some wood designs.
Although 17 potential sites had been looked at, Alderman Sissy Pattillo noted that several of those sites had to be eliminated because of state regulations. “Although several of the sites the committee originally looked at would have been a good match for size and location, state laws prohibiting an ABC building from being within a certain number of feet of schools or churches immediately disqualified them,” explained Sissy Pattillo. “There is not anything we can do about those laws, and thats something we need to consider when trying to come up with two additional locations.”
Alderman Scott addressed the Board and stated that some of his sources informed him that the location near Walmart would cost $400,000 more than a possible location near Macon Bank’s Corporate building. “My sources tell me that we would be spending substantial higher amount of money to build it near Walmart,” said Scott. “I have several sources who have brought it to my attention, and --their figures may not be reliable, but I think it is worth looking into and considering.”
The Board also addressed the issues of accessibility of possible locations as well as selecting a site in order for the Town to receive an economic benefit from a new store.
“I think wherever we build a store, there will be an increase in [customer] traffic,” said Alderman Joyce Handley. “I think we should look at placing a store in an area of town that could use an economic boost and could benefit from the traffic the store would bring.”
According to Mayor Collins, it is also crucial for the committee to consider accessibility to the new site. He noted that by placing the store near the new Walmart, an area anticipated to be extremely busy once completed, the town may see a loss in revenue because customers may not want to fight getting in and out of traffic congestion caused by the neighboring retail store.
With the current location’s lease ending in November, it it pertinent that the committee move quickly to identify a location, if they decide to move at all. The committee will be closely evaluating the sites over the next month and hopes to have a more concise, definitive plan at the next Town Board meeting.
Update on tablets for the town
After the board voted earlier this month to approve the purchase of 12 tablets for each member of the board and a few select employees, in a split vote during Monday night's continuation meeting, the board voted to approve an amendment to the original motion now allowing $8540.48 to be allocated to purchase 16 tablets and software instead of the originally intended 12 devices.
During the Jan. 3 Board meeting, the Aldermen voted to approve approximately $5,000 to purchase 12 Samsung Galaxy Tablets for board and staff use. After that meeting, Town Manager Sam Greenwood advised Kevin McGonigal, the town's IT Administrator, that 12 tablets would not be sufficient, but instead 16 tablets needed to be purchased in order for all department heads to receive a device.
During the Jan. 3 meeting, one of the main benefits of purchasing the tablets that was discussed was that the tablets would allow the board to go paperless and ultimately save money. During Monday night's meeting, Mayor Joe Collins stated that he did not believe “saving paper” justified spending $8,500 for the tablets. “I am not against getting the tablets,” said Collins. “But I think it is only fair that we state why we are getting them whether it be because of convenience or what, but we can't honestly say we want to its for an economic benefit and that if we spend $8,500 now, we will save money on paper later, that just doesn't seem right.”
Alderman Farrell Jamison said he had been under the impression from the beginning that it was a time saving measure and was necessary to make communication between the board and Town staff easier. “I always thought it was about convenience,” said Jamison. “If I am out somewhere and I need to review safety codes or an ordinance documents, I would be able to just pull it up instead of having to carry it around.”
The $3,500 increase from the original estimate was too much, according to Alderman Bob Scott. “Originally we approved $5,000,” said Scott. “But now we’re looking at spending $8,500 of the taxpayers dollars on cases and software and the devices are $50 more than anticipated and I just don't think we need it. I think it was a good idea at one time but is just too much now”
“We already approved 12 tablets and now we are talking about four more for department heads and I totally support that,” said Alderman Verlin Curtis. “I think it is worth that much more to be able to contact the department heads directly.”
Scott also noted that the reasons members of the board cited for wanting the tablets were already available to them via laptop computers. “Can we not do that with computers now?,” Scott asked in response to Curtis’ statement. “We could Bob, but we set out to do this and get tablets for the 12 people and going four more to get everyone on the same page just seems realistic to me,” replied Curtis.
In a Jan. 18 memo from McGonigal to the board, he informed the board that the tablets would not be able to be purchased from Amazon.com as originally anticipated due to manufacturer restrictions places on the number of devices allowed to be purchased from any one customer. The memo also states that the town would be able to purchase the tablets through the local Radio Shack for $50 more than originally budgeted. “I contacted Tony at Radio Shack and he advised me he could sell us 16 tablets at $499.99 each,” reads the memo.
The Board of Alderman voted 4-2 to approve the budget amendment and purchase the tablets through Radio Shack. Aldermen Verlin Curtis, Sissy Pattillo, Jamison Farrell and Joyce Handley voted in favor with Aldermen Bob Scott and Billy Mashburn in opposition.