Downtown coordinator, developer continuing Franklin growth
by Elodie Reed
A new downtown business coordinator and a year-old four-way partnership are continuing the push to liven Franklin’s downtown.
The coordinator, Concord-based development consultant Niel Cannon, took the job earlier this winter. His work is being funded by a $50,000 Rural Business Enterprise grant from USDA Rural Development.
Cannon said by phone last week that Franklin has plenty of business opportunities.
“Sort of the first stage of this is to talk to stakeholders – people that work downtown or that have a business downtown or own buildings downtown, just to get a sense of what’s going on and where we can go from here,” Cannon said. In particular, he said the city’s architecture, available space in the downtown and old mill buildings are promising.
“A lot of communities would kill for that kind of space,” he said.
There are roadblocks, too, Cannon said, with lack of finances being the major issue.
“Obviously the whole idea of trying to get some public funds – meaning state and federal funds – is a good idea,” he said. “But we need to see where they need to be targeted. We need to show and demonstrate positive economic impact with everything we do.”
Cannon, who has lived in Concord for 38 years and is the former director of the Capital Regional Development Council, said he took the consulting job in Franklin because he saw the need there.
“I decided to take a shot at it,” he said. He added that while Concord is a much bigger city and its own downtown revitalization is different, there were applicable lessons there.
“On a smaller scale, some of the strategies are important that have been successful in Concord,” Cannon said. Creating a cultural center like Concord’s South End has with the Capitol Center for the Arts and Red River Theaters, or increasing foot traffic and business with pedestrian-friendly design, could help Franklin, too.
“But,” Cannon added, “we need people.”
Todd Workman is doing his best to bring in more people, more businesses and more opportunities. After spending the last year or so acquiring property through his limited liability company, PermaCityLife, in partnership with Franklin Business and Industrial Development Corporation, Franklin Savings Banks and the Franklin industrial park, PermaCityLife now owns 10 properties in the city.
To help cover the final closing, renovation and administrative costs, Franklin Savings Bank donated $30,000 earlier this month to the group of four partners. “Without us having to ask,” Workman said by phone last week.
Seven have been transferred to nonprofits like the Franklin Studio coffee house, which used grant money to begin and grow.
“Now things are really starting to come together,” he said. Franklin Studio, for instance, is expanding and doubling its space. Whitewater education, rental and sales entity Outdoor New England is redoing its facade in preparation to open. The CATCH Neighborhood Housing renovation project will soon be started at the old Franklin Mill building. And Toad Hall, the eclectic pop-up art studio, will be converted into a tavern providing music, food and ambience.
Other businesses and organizations – dealing in software, research and design, housing, brownfield remediation and mushrooms – are all possibilities for the future, too.
“The list just goes on and on,” Workman said. “It’s real. It’s happening.”