EDA picks Afton Inn developer

Traffic flows past the Afton Inn at the corner of Main and South Royal Avenue in Front Royal in this photo taken in 2016. A developer plans to replace the building with apartments and a restaurant. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – A developer plans to tear down the Afton Inn and replace it with a restaurant and apartments.

The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority Board of Directors agreed at its meeting Friday to let MODE Partnership LLC demolish the Afton Inn at 2 E. Main St. and construct a new building on the site. The board discussed the matter in closed session before voting to adopt two resolutions related to the project. Board members Brendan Arbuckle and Jim Eastham did not attend the meeting.

The deal between the authority and MODE makes sure that the developer builds the structure it promises following the demolition, EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said after the meeting. The EDA maintains ownership of the property until the developer completes the project, McDonald said. Board Chairman L. Greg Drescher concurred with McDonald. The developer also must cover the cost to demolish the structure, McDonald said.

MODE can demolish the Afton Inn and build a structure in its place for an estimated $2.1 million, McDonald stated in an email Friday. Estimates to rehabilitate the original structure ranged from $2.7 million-$3.5 million, McDonald noted.

Town Council decided in January 2014 to trade the old Town Hall for the Afton Inn. The deal called for the EDA to take ownership of the Afton Inn and market the property for its redevelopment. Meanwhile, the former owner of the Afton Inn, Frank Barros, set out to redevelop the Town Hall, maintain its appearance and put the property back on the tax rolls.

Critics of the agreement argued that the council gave up a historic building in good condition for a blighted eyesore left to fall into disrepair by the owner. Some critics claimed that the Afton Inn would likely face the wrecking ball  given its dilapidated condition. The Afton Inn also has appeared on the town’s list of blighted, dilapidated structures.

EDA officials said they tried to find a developer that could keep the building intact while restoring the structure. A group of local business partners led by Mike Silek pulled out of a similar proposal earlier this year after they determined it would cost too much to restore the structure and a grant-funding option fell through.

MODE intends to retrieve and recycle much of the brick and wood from the building and incorporate the materials into the new structure, Drescher said. Crews would need to take apart the building to salvage the materials rather than raze the structure, he explained.

The developers must apply for a demolition permit with the town Planning and Zoning Department. The Board of Architectural Review then considers the demolition permit for its approval. McDonald said the demolition request comes before the Board of Architectural Review on Aug. 8. The EDA and the developers would take their request to the Town Council if the Board of Architectural Review denies the permit.

The developers’ proposal letter submitted to the EDA states that MODE intends to design a building that features a restaurant on the ground floor and apartments on the top two stories. MODE President Gabe Nassar says a restaurant with a beer garden and a meeting space can support local and traveling workers as well as tourists. MODE envisions two-story, studio apartments with open-plan layouts. Recycled brick and wood connects the old building with modern design and safety standards, Nassar says. The developers plan to start demolition this fall.

The Afton Inn, or Montview Hotel as known originally, was built around 1868 at the northeast corner of Main Street and North Royal Avenue and served as a respite for city dwellers and travelers. The building became a restaurant and café in the 1900s. In recent years the structure fell into disrepair

MODE submitted a design concept and budget breakdown for negotiations on a letter of intent for the redevelopment of the site. The concept includes building a kitchen with brick recycled from the original structure. Upper levels would consist of four, two-story, studio apartments. The rear of the building would include two work studios.

The MODE development group plans to coordinate the design, construction and use of the building through several phases, the company’s proposal letter states. Demolition likely will occur once the developers complete the final schematic design. Subsequent phases include planning, submission of permit applications and construction. The EDA signs off on each phase.

MODE’s proposal letter states that “the EDA will fund the project while the development group will have a lease-to-own agreement in place with early buy-out options.” The EDA will provide a letter of intent that would outline the final terms.

McDonald stated in an email Friday afternoon that the EDA has not agreed to fund the project. The agreement only indicates that the EDA is working with MODE on the redevelopment, McDonald stated. She went on to state that the Town Council has already been briefed on the proposal and agreed in closed session to the demolition and development. The town does not own the property. As such, the council does not need to take action in open session on the development or sale of the property. McDonald has said in the past that the EDA would continue to provide the council with updates on the possible development of the property.