Developer: Afton Inn cheaper to raze than fix up

FRONT ROYAL – A developer looking at the former Afton Inn says it would cost less to demolish the building than to renovate it.

Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, gave Town Council an update Monday on the agency’s efforts to market the property on East Main Street.

Front Royal swapped the former Town Hall on North Royal Avenue for the old Afton Inn in late 2014. The agreement called for the then owner of the Afton Inn to take ownership of the Town Hall. In exchange, the EDA took ownership of the Afton Inn to market the property on the town’s behalf.

The developer had engineering and environmental studies conducted on the Afton Inn, McDonald told council.

“They did not come back in a positive light,” McDonald said. “The developer said that the expense of renovating that building does not make it feasible, that it would be better for them to tear down that building and rebuild.

“But they are looking into alternatives of how to make that happen,” McDonald added. “So hopefully at your next meeting I will have a draft plan and a budget put together from this prospect so that you guys can see exactly what it would cost them to renovate the building to have apartments on the top floors and a restaurant on the bottom floor.”

McDonald didn’t identify the developer reviewing the Afton Inn.

Councilman Bret Hrbek asked members if they could meet in closed session with McDonald and the developer at a work session. Hrbek said he would “like to look them in the eyes and hear what they have to say and what their plans are so we can make a determination what we should do about that building.” McDonald said the developers likely would be willing to meet with council.

Councilman Jacob Meza asked if similar studies had been performed on the Afton Inn that can confirm what the developer would say as far as razing versus renovating the building. McDonald said no.

“In fact, the studies that were done before – now they were done 15 years ago – said the building was structurally sound but I do believe that was before the floors caved in from the weight of the books (stored inside),” McDonald said.

The new engineering and environmental studies likely are the first to offer a cost analysis of the two options, McDonald added. The study includes detailed numbers, McDonald said. The developer had not responded to her request to share the studies with council, McDonald said.

Opponents of the trade arrangement, including then Councilman Daryl Funk, voiced concern that Front Royal would give up a historic building for a dilapidated structure. Critics said early on that any prospective developer likely would push to demolish the structure rather than try to restore or renovate the building. All along the EDA has said it intends to find a developer to reuse the building, not raze the structure.

Swap supporters claimed the deal would benefit Front Royal through additional tax revenue by placing the former Town Hall under private ownership and through the renovation of Afton Inn.

Warren County property records list the owner of 16 N. Royal Ave. as Fm Town Hall LLC, based in Manassas Park, with Francisco Barros named as the registered agent. The real estate assessment performed in 2014 shows the property is valued at $763,400. The owners paid more than $5,000 in real estate taxes to the county for 2015. By comparison, the former Afton Inn is valued at $261,300.

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