by Kevin Walters | The Tennessean
Entrepreneur Jason McConnell prepares to open McConnell House in restored classic building
FRANKLIN — Call it a new, new, new, new venture for the Bridge Street building commonly known as the “old, old, old” jail.
Downtown Franklin restaurateur Jason McConnell is getting ready to unveil his McConnell House event site later this month inside the 6,000-square-foot former jail, the oldest jail of where three jails once stood off Bridge Street.
The project is the fourth dining-related venture in that location, 108 Bridge St., since 2008. However, instead of opening another restaurant, McConnell has a twist that might make the difference when it comes to staying power in the 106-year-old former county jail.
“Our focus is going to be events and wedding receptions and corporate events,” said McConnell, chef/proprietor of three Main Street restaurants. “We’re just trying to get it on its feet and go from there.”
The Franklin High School Class of 2001 already has booked the McConnell House for its class reunion in September.
The building was used for office space before Monell’s restaurant operated there from 2006 to 2008 followed by a restaurant called 108 Grille, which opened and closed in 2009. Battle Ground Brewery opened in late 2009 and closed in May.
Open house is pending
Pending final clearances from city inspectors, McConnell said he wants to host an open house next week to show off the upgrades and furniture — including some owned by his grandparents — that he’s added since taking possession of the multistory building in early June.
While downtown Franklin has added restaurants in the past few months, the building’s location off Main Street might have been a hindrance to other, earlier restaurant incarnations.
“Even though it’s one block off Main Street, it’s a little bit off the track for Franklin,” McConnell said. “I’m approaching it with a little bit different goal.”
McConnell owns Main Street’s Red Pony Restaurant as well as Sol and 55 South, which share a space.
The project brings more activity to the former Bridge Street jails, which have seen their share of interest in recent weeks. Known as the “old, old, old jail” because it was the oldest of three former jails on the street, the building is owned by businessman Marty Ozburn.
Next door to the McConnell House is the white-painted “old, old jail,” an art-deco inspired 1930s jail that is owned by the city of Franklin. Last year, the city declared that property surplus. The city is looking for a possible buyer.
Next door, crews recently demolished the city-owned “old jail,” which was built in the 1970s. City officials want to eventually rezone that land. Franklin acquired the buildings as part of a property swap with Williamson County.
Additional venue seen as benefit
Some wonder if the addition of another venue will overcrowd the city’s market for event venues.
Heidi Tucker, event coordinator at Red House off Third Avenue, said the McConnell House will bring more people to the city and help downtown as a whole.
“They’re going to check out multiple venues,” Tucker said about prospective clients. “It’s going to pull some more people our way.”
Kelly Harwood, owner of Gallery 202, an art gallery, said the public is attracted to buildings that have history. His art gallery is inside a Federal-style home off Second Avenue that was restored. He sees the city’s history and its buildings as helping bring people here.
“They’re a big draw in Franklin,” Harwood said. “It’s so charming. (Visitors) are coming to Franklin. They’re looking for events.”
For now, the facility will cater to special, appointment-only crowds and parties. But McConnell wouldn’t rule out one day opening a full restaurant there, though some remodeling would be required.
He’s already booked eight events.
“We hit the ground running,” he said.