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Front Royal could swap old Town Hall for Afton Inn

By Alex Bridges

Front Royal leaders plan to trade the old Town Hall for the historic Afton Inn.

Mayor Timothy Darr announced at the regular Town Council meeting on Monday that members had tentatively reached a deal with the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority and Afton Inn LLC, the owner of the old hotel, to exchange the historic buildings.

The town scheduled a public hearing on the property transfer for Jan. 27. A hearing is required for any transfer of public property to another entity.

EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said that negotiations between the parties that began about six to nine months ago will continue, but no agreements can be signed until after the public hearing and Town Council votes on the transfer. As McDonald explained, the EDA would take ownership of the Town Hall and then swap the building for the Afton Inn. The EDA would work with the town to market and find a developer of the Afton Inn.

The EDA hasn't considered the demolition of the Afton Inn.

"That is not something that we have actively pursued," McDonald said. "We would rather keep the structure and redevelop it and keep the historic value of it."

Information from Front Royal indicates that the agreement for the property swap includes covenants that require the protection of the exterior appearance of the former Town Hall. The covenants also give the town the right of first refusal to buy back the building should the property go up for sale in the future. The property trade does not include the Union Street public parking lot located behind the former Town Hall.

Town Manager Steve Burke said Tuesday that officials and council will continue to work with the EDA and identify potential, commercial interests for the Afton Inn property.

"I know that the town over the years has received a number of requests from the community to do something with that property and I know that that has been a priority of Town Council to see some form of redevelopment occur on the property," Burke said. "So I think that the town recognizes that this opportunity could arrive at a long-term benefit for the entire community, not only just the initial acquisition of the property."

How the properties would be developed remains uncertain.

"Well, I'm sure the current owner of the Afton Inn property has ideas of what they would like done with the Town Hall once they take ownership, and I know that Town Council and the EDA have ideas about what they would like done with the Afton Inn property," Burke said. "But until it's completed it's too early to speculate on what the ultimate development would be."

Town Hall, constructed in 1935, recently housed most of the Front Royal administrative offices. The town relocated most of its departments to the former BB&T building on East Main Street across from the Afton Inn early last year.

Since the move, Front Royal officials have explored options for the former Town Hall. As Darr stated, council is excited that this deal would ultimately allow Front Royal to collect property taxes from the former Town Hall building. Town leaders anticipate that one or more businesses will occupy the building.

Darr noted that council also is looking forward to working with the EDA to market and redevelop the Afton Inn property.

Town Hall was appraised last year at $610,000 and covers 0.26 acres. The Afton Inn, built in 1867, sits on 0.24 acres and was assessed at $515,600 in 2011, McDonald said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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