Developer considers old police building for brewery, eatery

FRONT ROYAL – A developer wants to turn the former town police headquarters into a restaurant and brewery.

Front Royal recently received an offer from Gerald W. Welcome Jr. to buy 24 W. Main St. for $275,000, according to information provided by the town. Town Council’s agenda for Monday’s regular meeting includes the topic for potential action. The proposed motion also calls for Town Manager Steve Burke and Town Attorney Doug Napier to execute necessary documents to complete the property.

Council must first hold a public hearing if they choose to consider selling the property, Napier said Thursday, adding that members would be advised of the requirement at the meeting. State code does not require the town to hold a hearing to buy property for a public use. The town code section also requires the purchasing agent to accept bids for the property and council can accept or reject the best offer at its next meeting.

Council also might consider including an additional clause in the sale agreement to specify that, if the buyer doesn’t place the property into productive, tax-producing use within 24 months, the town can buy back the building at the same purchase price.

County real estate records list the value of the former police department property at $592,700 as of the latest reassessment.

Council discussed the potential disposition of the police building as well as the former Afton Inn property in closed session earlier this week. Council took no action on the item but the town did put the topic on the next meeting agenda.

Asked for comment on the proposed sale Thursday, Burke stated by email, “As the discussion regarding the former Police Building and the Afton Inn were conducted in Closed Meeting with no action taken, I have no comment on either item.”

Burke, who went on to refer specific questions to Napier, said he didn’t expect the town to respond until council takes action on the matter.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority has been marketing the former police department building as well as the Afton Inn. Local developer Bill Barnett wrote to EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and explained in an Aug. 17 letter the reasons for the offered price. Barnett took potential investors and partners in the project on tours of the property

“This offer contract is a result of some pretty intense analysis, albeit short of engineering and design, of the property by this group,” Barnett states. “It is our hope that Mayor Tim Darr, and the Town Counsel will agree to this proposal. I know that you were hoping to get a higher price for this property, and I encouraged my clients to bring forward a fair offer. I believe they have done so.”

Stakeholders had to consider that the interior design remains functionally obsolete and would need to be reconfigured for any marketable use, Barnett states. Any buyer would need to remediate or encapsulate the asbestos in the building. Some modifications to the former post office left old supports in the walls that might require engineering changes, Barnett states. The fact that the building lies in the historical district helped preserve the structure’s look but could add cost to exterior changes or additions. A pump system in the basement might present challenges in meeting certain requirements.

“It is a wonderful building that I remember as the old Post Office, and where I visited the basement located Selective Service (Draft Board) as a young man,” Barnett states. “I personally would love to see it rehabilitated with original type lamp post in front and repurposed for a Restaurant, as so many old Post Offices around the country have been. Yes, it will contain both a restaurant and brewery, but it will not be a bar, or a nightclub, but a restaurant, that will make both the owners and the Town, proud to have in this prominent location.

“My clients desire to move as quickly as they can to begin work on the building,” Barnett continues. “During the study period, my clients also plan to reach out individually to all of the surrounding property owners, including the homes, churches, and businesses, to share their plans, and hear any concerns the owners may have. They desire to be a good neighbor, and the best way to do so is to proactively engage the neighbors in conversation.”

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


Correction: An earlier version of this story should have stated that county real estate records list the value of the former police department property at $592,700 as of the latest reassessment.