Monday, August 1, 2016

Franklin Downtown Partnership Celebrating 15-Year Milestone

We are celebrating 15 years of collaborations and partnerships, projects and progress!

15 Years Strong: The Franklin Downtown Partnership Works Toward Vision of Revitalized Downtown Center 

It began with a few business owners, some community leaders, a town employee, and several Franklin residents who wanted to revitalize downtown Franklin’s development, help recreate the town center as a destination, and help stimulate economic growth.

Fifteen years, three new mixed-use buildings, 25 beautification days, three greenspace areas, new benches, new trash barrels, one bronze statue, nearly 40 events and downtown strolls, one Streetscape and Roadway Improvement plan, and 200 members later, the Franklin Downtown Partnership is planning even more collaborations and improvements in the heart of Franklin. 

“It’s truly all about the word ‘Partnership.’ Our goal has always been to stimulate economic growth by bringing community groups, the town, businesses and residents together and putting ideas to work that improve our downtown,” says Lisa Piana, FDP Executive Director. 

“We’ve worked on impactful projects behind the scenes; things that have cultural, beautification and historical importance and improve the quality of life in town.”

East Central Street furniture building, 2005.

Over time, many people have forgotten the 
dilapidated furniture store building on East Central Street, which is now the home of The Cake Bar, Maguro House and Dean College student housing. Others have forgotten the abandoned rental car lot on West Central Street across from THE BLACK BOX and Mac City. That location is now commuter parking and greenspace.

Franklin Commons building, East Central Street, 2015.

Strawberry Stroll, 2007, West Central Street greenspace.

Projects like these illustrate the non-profit Partnership’s mission – to stimulate economic development; to bring residents, business owners, and community leaders together; to encourage cooperation; and to provide leadership for the purpose of revitalizing downtown Franklin. 

“We started with the main belief that a strong, thriving downtown is the heart and soul of Franklin. Interestingly, we have a lot of members who are not downtown businesses who understand that. The connections we create make the difference. It has taken all of these people coming together over the past 15 years that make the Partnership work,” says Jane Curran, a founding FDP board member. 

In 2001, the group started with only eight members. By 2015 the organization had grown to nearly 200 member businesses, groups and residents. Many of those have been members for more than 10 years. In the past 15 years the FDP has had a hand in at least 25 projects (see related article). 

“In that time I’ve seen the organization grow to 200 members, and I’m very proud of the way we work cohesively together on to these important projects,” says Nicole Fortier, FDP President for the past 12 1/2 years.  “Positive changes require great ideas, countless volunteer hours, and, often times, funding and support from our town council and state representatives, and we’ve been very successful in leading these collaborations.”

Franklin Town Administrator Jeff Nutting says in 2001 the Town Council made the revitalization of the town center a priority and began working with the FDP. According to Nutting, the Partnership has played an important role in the overall economic development of Franklin. 

A flurry of new building on East Central and Summer streets, greenspace installations, downtown gateway signs, and creation of a statue in front of the Historical Museum in the early 2000s slowed when the U.S. economy struggled beginning in 2007. The Partnership continued to hold seasonal events downtown as a way for the community to socialize and to draw interest to the area. The group also solicited members’ ideas and opinions about the Roadway and Streetscape Improvement project. 

Park and statue at Franklin Historical Museum

When road construction is completed in late summer, downtown Franklin will be safer for pedestrians and have a more welcoming appearance. 

“During construction our main focus is on supporting the businesses that are downtown today. We currently meet with town officials every two weeks to keep members up to date. We are planning another progressive dinner and new ways to bring people into the center of town,” says Lisa Piana. 

The group is also making a strategic plan for life after two-way traffic and working on aesthetic improvements, including banners for the light poles. Organizers are busy planning the annual events as well. 

The Partnership’s Strawberry Stroll will happen June 9, the October Stroll will be October 6 and the Holiday Stroll is set for December 1. The group is lining up networking events and guest speaker presentations, and will also lend support to the Franklin Cultural District Committee’s Summer Arts Festival in July. 
Volunteers, Senator Spilka at Summer Street ribbon cutting ceremony.

(L to R) Jim Vallee, Jeff Nutting, Jane Curran, Lisa Piana
with gateway signage downtown Franklin.
The Partnership and the Town of Franklin both agree that the finished downtown project will attract more private investment to the area.

“A vibrant downtown is a core value of a community. People identify with a nice downtown, one that’s an attractive place to socialize, dine out, and do business. An improved downtown improves rents, and improved rents improve the town’s bottom line,” says Town Administrator Nutting.  

“We’ll still have challenges,” he continues. “Parking is one we’re continually working on; it’s a problem faced by every downtown. The future of Franklin is about redevelopment of old warehouses and manufacturing space, and upgrading buildings downtown. We just have to keep going. People still need a social network, service needs, unique places to shop. The challenge is finding the right mix of businesses that will do well in downtown Franklin, and the Partnership can help us do that.”

 According to Fortier, when the streetscape project is completed this summer and traffic flow is improved, the downtown will be much closer to what the Partnership envisioned many years ago. 

“We’ll be able to feel the change in downtown Franklin,” says Fortier. “As an organization, the Partnership will continue to drive foot traffic to the center of town and invite interesting and unique businesses and restaurants to move here. We’re not done.”

The Partnership invites residents and business owners to participate in discussions about what they would like to see in their downtown. The group relies on sponsorship, membership dues and donations to fund events and oversee projects. Resident memberships are $25, and business memberships start as low as $100.