Franklin holds town hall on multi-million downtown redevelopment

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Nearly 100 people attended a town hall meeting to hear the progress of the Main Street streetscaping project and future plans for the riverfront. While there was a lot of interest in the improvement of downtown Franklin, some older residents expressed skepticism.

The meeting was held in the newly opened Franklin High School cafeteria as Mayor Brent Centers and City Manager Jonathan Westendorf walked residents through the nearly two-hour presentation on the project underway along Main Street and what the future vision and plans will include to make the city a destination of choice.

Westendorf said the past few years have been focused on developing the various master plans in place to move forward. He said the $13.4 million Main Street project has much to do with rebuilding underground infrastructure lines for water, upsized storm sewer, making sanitary sewer repairs and electric as it does with the above ground beautification. In addition, he said this will help attract more businesses to open up in the downtown area.

“Main Street will become a two-way street from First Street to the south point and it will be completed by Nov. 22,” Westendorf said.

He said construction crews have found original pipes and streets during the project, some of which are 80 or more years old. Westendorf said they found an old pipe whose water had been seeping through the soil to the river.

“We’ve stopped treating 300,000 gallons of water a day since we’ve put in the new (water) main,” he said.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Westendorf said the city wants to slow downtown traffic by having two-way traffic on Main Street as well as creating a space where people can walk, talk with neighbors and slow traffic down. He said the streetscape goes from building edge to building edge and will include wider sidewalks and spaces for outdoor dining. In addition, there will be benches, bollards, trees and bushes to beautify the street.

“Everything we’ve done has been with the intent to slow people and traffic down. We want to create a civic crossroads. This is not the normal streetscape,” he said. “We want people to feel safe.”

Main Street will also feature new lighting including a chandelier over the intersection of Fourth and Main streets and there will be video surveillance and music playing throughout the new streetscape. Westendorf said new pavers for the sidewalks arrive next week and will be installed between Fourth and Sixth streets by early June.

Westendorf said there are plans to redevelop River Street that will include an overlook at Fourth Street; two canoe/kayak launching points; a playground; public restrooms; and other improvements. He said the cost for the riverfront improvements is projected at $47 million. Other projects include riverbank conservation measures as the east river bank is eroding and does not have flood protection levees as the west bank does.

“This won’t happen overnight,” he said.

Westendorf said the city has applied for a $25 million federal RAISE grant to help cover the costs. The city will be notified this summer if it will receive this grant. If awarded, he said the project would have to be completed by 2028 and does not require a local match. He said the city has also identified another 17 state and federal grant sources that they will be applying for project funding.

Residents said they liked what they’ve heard at the meeting, but remained cautiously optimistic.

“I thought it was good and they answered some of my questions,” said Patrick LeVangie, 69. “But I still have more questions.”

His wife Sandra said, “I’m a little skeptical. I’d really like to see it happen and it would be great for the city. I’d like to walk downtown and I like to see something there for everybody.”

Another couple, Brian and Teresa Burns, agreed.

“I think it’s good,” Brian Burns said. “I don’t have any concerns at the moment.”

Teresa Burns said she was impressed that the new buildings built on vacant lots downtown will have to blend in with the other buildings on the street.

Westendorf also announced Tuesday night that the city had closed on the former Franklin Boxboard property at the corner of Riley Boulevard and East Sixth Street. He said the city purchased the property for $1.03 million for future development.

In addition, he also said the roundabout construction on Ohio 123/East Sixth Street and will connect the driveways to Community Park and the new Franklin High School will begin on April 1, 2025 and will be completed by Aug. 1, 2025.

Westendorf and Centers will be hosting walking tours of downtown to show residents what is coming on Main Street. Tours are scheduled for 9 a.m. April 27 and at 5:30 p.m. April. 30. Both tours will start at the city building at 1 Benjamin Franklin Way.

About the Author