Friday, January 10, 2014

Daily News Coverage of 1/9 General Meeting Discussion

Matt Tota of the Milford Daily News attended Thursday's FDP General Meeting and covered the discussion of the Emmons Street property discussion for the paper. Here's Matt's story:

Franklin businesses offer ideas for former town hall

By Matt Tota
Daily News Staff 

Posted Jan. 10, 2014 @ 6:16 am    
FRANKLIN — An entertainment club, a quaint hotel, a lush park — when it comes to the question of how to develop the former Town Hall on Emmons Street, the downtown business community has more than a few suggestions. 
Nearly 40 business leaders crowded into a conference room at Dean College Thursday morning to shop ideas for the property’s future. 
The hour-long session, part of the Franklin Downtown Partnership’s monthly meeting, illuminated two potential scenarios for the town: sell or lease the building for commercial use or turn the entire property into green space for the public. 
The Town Council will have the final say on what becomes of the roughly 15,000-square-foot building, which still houses the Recreation Department, and less than 1-acre piece of land at 150 Emmons St. But councilors have said they’ll value outside input. 
"The council wants to know what residents, business owners and community leaders want to see down there," said partnership executive director Lisa Piana, introducing those unaware of the Emmons Street debate to an issue that will figure as one of the council’s more important decisions of the new year. "Our hope is to have everyone think about the pros and cons of what goes there." 
Attendees reached an early consensus: The town should market the property to small businesses rather than the corporate brands that tend to bring with them traffic issues. 
Soon after, the ideas came with haste, as Jane Curran, owner of Jane’s Frames on East Central Street, scribbled them down on large pieces of poster paper taped to a white board. 
One is to build a park on the property with seating and tables for people to lunch or take a break from shopping. Some of the local restaurants might even take advantage of the outdoor area to sell their fare. 
Another option calls for transforming the space into an entertainment venue of some kind, be it an outdoor stage or a performing arts club. The plan was more appealing than reserving the building for retail and office space, because it could have more of an effect on foot traffic in the downtown. 
Sue Brown, director of sales for the Hampton Inn on Union Street, said one of the problems is that the draws seen in other communities are absent from the downtown. 
"Remember, you have three hotels in this town that host almost 300-plus people a night who’re looking for something to do," Brown said. "They have free time and are asking, ‘Where do I go from here?’ Right now, we’re sending them to the outlets, we’re sending them to Patriot Place. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to send all those people here, have them spend their money within our town?" 
Other suggestions for the property included seeking a developer interested in building a small hotel — in the style of a bed and breakfast — or commissioning a "welcome center" that would hold some municipal offices. 
Piana will present the partnership’s ideas on Jan. 21 at the council’s own brainstorming meeting, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Building, 355 East Central St. 
Matt Tota can be reached at 508-634-7521 or