Franklin receives recommendations, suggestions to revitalize downtown

12:00 a.m. Sunday, May 7, 2017 Local News
Franklin officials and business owners are exploring the possibility of becoming an accredited Main Street program to help spur downtown economic development. It recently received a report from Heritage Ohio with suggestions on how the city could be designated as a Main Street community. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Franklin stakeholders who participated in an assessment visit with Heritage Ohio recently received a 39-page report on where the city stands and the work that it will have to do before it can receive a Main Street designation.

A team from Heritage Ohio conducted a two-day Downtown Assessment Resource Team visit in Franklin in mid-March and forwarded its observations and recommendations for next steps in the process .Heritage Ohio said the goal was to assist Franklin stakeholders in their downtown revitalization efforts, with a secondary goal of educating Franklin community leaders, stakeholders and residents on the principles of the Main Street Program, and to foster additional buy-in for a local Main Street effort.

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City Manager Sonny Lewis and Councilman Brent Centers updated City Council on the DART recommendations.

“It was good information and gave us some direction but it was more vague that we hoped,” Lewis said.

Some items identified included signage issues and businesses posting operating hours which was perceived as “not welcoming” by the DART team, he said.

Lewis said next steps will be to get with the stakeholders who participated and begin developing four key committees that would align with the Main Street’s Four-Point approach - economic vitality, promotion, design and organization - as well as an oversight board in the next three weeks. He said each committee would be to do short- and long-term projects addressing the needs of downtown Franklin and resolving some of the issues the DART visit identified.

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Councilman Brent Centers, who spearheaded the DART team visit, said the selection of committee members will be by application and candidates will be asked to explain why they would volunteer to serve about 10 to 12 hours a month for a one, three, or five-year term of office. He said the call for applications would be through the various media sources. Centers said candidates do not have to be Franklin residents. In addition, there will need to be various organizational issues to address, including the hiring of an executive director.

“The idea is to get new people on these boards,” he said.

In addition, it was recommended that the make-up of the committees be a mix of one-third citizens, one-third downtown business owners, and one-third city representatives.

Lewis said the committees would have voting and non-voting members.

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Centers said the DART team also focused on the appearance of some downtown businesses as well as a need to work on the city’s branding as there now three logos for Franklin — the image of namesake Benjamin Franklin, a lion, and the new kite logo.

Among the recommendations were completing a business inventory to determine what assets, stores and services are already there as well as identifying types of businesses to attract. A building inventory was also suggested to assess occupancy readiness by developing a data base of pertinent information as well as exploring using upper floors of buildings as offices, etc.

Other recommendations included encouraging ongoing maintenance of downtown buildings, improving wayfinding signage, improving the city’s social media presence and external communications efforts, develop retail promotions, addressing an overabundance of temporary signage, working on raising the civic pride quotient among residents, encouraging property owners to make continued investments in their buildings and educating them on the basics of historic preservation.

While there was a lot of information to digest, Centers said, “I definitely think it was worth the effort.”

“It was one of the most proactive moves the city has made since I’ve been paying attention over the last decade,” he said.