Taking on the bank

As downtown Greenfield has undergone a transformation over the past few years, bringing renewed vigor to Main Street, it’s been impressive to see what’s unfolded.

Unfortunately, there’s been a significant piece of the picture that has been missing from much of the action — the former First National Bank building near the top of Bank Row.

It’s not that there hasn’t been an effort to see this architectural monument to banking’s glory days find new life. Such desire is what prompted Franklin County Community Development Corp. to get involved in taking over the property more than a dozen years ago, putting money into preventing additional deterioration of the building. All along, the plan was to find someone who shared in the desire to see this building once again gain stature in the community, someone who had the financial wherewithal to make it happen.

But that’s been much tougher than anticipated.

Other than the proposal a couple of years ago that looked to turn the Garden Cinemas back into a performing arts space and anchor the bank building with a movie complex — a plan that fell apart because of its own financial risks — a viable buyer hasn’t surfaced.

Now the mayor wants the municipality to give it a go.

As reported in Wednesday’s Recorder, Mayor William Martin thinks the town will have a better chance with the building, both in getting grants to continue what the CDC started in tackling the necessary physical improvements and in finding a developer for the property.

A town takeover, while intriguing, still will be saddled with the economic realities that have hindered the CDC’s effort.

It could very well be that town government would provide new energy and new clout in getting something done with the property. But they alone won’t necessarily create a quick turnaround, especially given that money remains a key ingredient. Anyone taking on the building will need deep enough pockets to build for the future as well as pay for the debts of the past. As CDC Executive Director John Waite made plain in our story, the CDC wants to recoup its investment.

We suspect the town, too, would be looking to get back money it put into the property.

The last thing anyone wants to see is for the town to take ownership only to come to a standstill, or in the desire to find a developer, let promises hold sway over financial shortcomings.

Perhaps, then, joint ownership as a possibility suggested by the mayor might work. That might create strengths as well as spreading the potential liabilities.

It’s those liabilities that prompt us to urge real caution on the town’s part when it comes to the grand old granite bank building.

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