Franklin works to reimagine downtown, riverfront core area

River Street area could be partially closed for recreation and entertainment, including amphitheater, DORA

Franklin City Council got a glimpse at the future of how its downtown and riverfront core could be reimagined in the next few years, as part of a council retreat Saturday.

That future could include a number of new mixed-use buildings for residential, commercial and retail stores, new restaurants and a new riverfront area to encourage recreation and entertainment with an outdoor amphitheater.

City Manager Jonathan Westendorf said various infrastructure needs would need to be addressed soon as construction starts on the new high school complex.

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One project will be installing a new water main along South Main Street between Second and Sixth streets in late 2022. Westendorf said this will be coordinated with a future streetscaping project, and that the city will seek grants for the street project. Part of this would be to make South Main Street a two-way street.

Consultants from McBride Dale Clarion Associates presented a number of conceptual plans on how this area of the city could be re-developed based on information that has been gleaned through an ongoing survey of residents and other stakeholders. In the drawings presented, the consultants also identified locations downtown for gateways, as well as future mixed-use anchor buildings.

Westendorf said one option would be to close River Street between Third and Sixth streets once South Main Street becomes a two-way street again. The downtown improvements would also include a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA), allowing people to drink alcoholic beverages in certain outdoor areas, to attract people downtown.

One intermediate project that is expected to be completed by summer will be to create food truck pads on Fourth Street between South Main Street and Riley Boulevard. Westendorf said this could happen later this year to bring people downtown to eat.

The theme of the resident survey was asking, “In 10 years, I would like Downtown Franklin to ...” The survey was a partnership of Franklin, CT Consultants, Warren County Regional Planning Commission, and McBride Dale Clarion.

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In the survey responses through Feb. 22, 85% of respondents said downtown revitalization is important to the community, with the second most-frequent request being the removal of blighted buildings. The survey, which is still open, had 382 responses.

The survey also indicated that 71% of the responses said recreational opportunities are not sufficient in Franklin. The survey also said 80% believe the city is a great place to raise a family.

A “word cloud” was created by city staff based on the survey responses, showing the prominence of responses mentioning the words downtown, businesses, place, restaurants, safe, shops, people, family, thriving, walk, and Franklin ... as things people would like to see downtown Franklin to become in 10 years.

“There is overwhelming positive support for what we are doing,” Westendorf said. “We want to make sure developers are ready to seize the opportunity with plans ... We want people to believe this can happen.”

In the past year, Westendorf and city staff have met with 46 different developers concerning various projects.

Part of those preparations include working on things such as updating the city’s zoning, development and property maintenance codes, he said.

He said a final design could be ready in the next six months.

Council members said they were very supportive of the conceptual plans presented.

Vice Mayor Todd Hall said this is not going to happen overnight and the city will need to get more people involved. Hall said the new school construction was the catalyst for this effort.

“This is awesome,” Councilman Michael Aldridge said. “I’m proud of how progressive we’ve become. You can still honor history with new development. "

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