Afton Inn still on the market: Town discusses building in closed session

FRONT ROYAL – Efforts to market the Afton Inn continue a year after a deal that gave its former owner the old Town Hall.

Council approved a deal last fall that gave the former Town Hall property on North Royal Avenue to Francisco Barros, then owner of the Afton Inn. In turn, Barros gave the Afton Inn to the Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority. The authority agreed to market the Afton Inn property for commercial and/or residential use.

Council met in closed session briefly Monday night to discuss the matter with Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the authority. Council took no action on the topic after returning to open session.

McDonald said Tuesday she and council discussed “an unannounced prospect” for the Afton Inn. Asked if the town is considering purchasing the property, McDonald said this is one of the options broached. The town has not made an offer for the property, McDonald said.

Assistant Town Attorney George Sonnett said Monday night that the discussion fell within the Freedom of Information Act’s guidelines pertaining to closed sessions. Sonnett said the topic is disposition of publicly owned property. While he wouldn’t say Tuesday if the town is a prospective buyer or acquirer of the Afton Inn, Sonnett reiterated that the closed session was appropriate.

Alan Gernhardt, staff attorney for the Freedom of Information Advisory Council, said Tuesday that if the town is a prospective buyer or acquirer of the property, then the matter falls under the real estate exemption. Gernhardt said he would see a problem if the town was not a potential buyer.

The authority has fielded a litany of uses proposed for the Afton Inn.

“It has ranged from everything from a microbrewery to just a regular restaurant, office space, apartments,” McDonald said. “Each one has incorporated apartments into the concept plan but they differ on the first and second floors.”

The condition of the Afton Inn – vacant and boarded up for years but deemed structurally sound by inspectors – comes up as an issue for prospective developers, McDonald said. Whether or not developers would demolish the structure and start fresh remains uncertain.

“Well, we’re trying to make an effort to keep that building,” McDonald said. “Some of the prospects have addressed that but nothing has been submitted to us that says they want to do that.”

Meanwhile, Barros has made some interior renovations to the former Town Hall building, McDonald said. The property swap agreement requires Barros to maintain the structure’s outside appearance.

The authority also continues to work with Barros to market his property, McDonald said. Barros has had several prospects, she added.

The deal attracted critics and supporters from the community when it first came to light in early 2014, though discussions among town officials and the authority began months earlier. Critics, including some members of council, claimed the town gave up a valuable, historic property for a vacant, dilapidated eyesore. Supporters said the deal helps to find developers for both properties and puts the former Town Hall on the tax rolls. Skeptics of the trade claimed that whomever takes ownership of the Afton Inn, including the town, would likely demolish the building anyway given its condition.

The former Town Hall at 16 N. Royal Ave. is valued at $763,400, with the building assessed at $649,700, according to the property reassessment performed for Warren County in 2014. Records show FM Town Hall LLC owns the property. Afton Inn, 2 E. Main St., is valued at $261,300, with the building assessed at $125,500.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or