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Downtown Franklin: Weather, other factors stall progress

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Projects to build a new public garden, restore the exterior of a downtown Franklin pub and help new businesses open downtown were awarded close to $1 million in tax dollars from a Franklin organization, but so far most of them haven’t started.

The work to restore facades of several downtown buildings and support new businesses were part of a call for projects from the Franklin Development Corp., which was spending the last of $5 million in taxpayer funds it received when it was created in 2008.

Now nine months later, two projects are done, others have started, and others haven’t gotten any money from the city-created agency.

Work was supposed to be completed by June 30, but board members said that is unlikely. And now they want to know what’s holding up the projects.

The two projects that have been completed were small, so neither took much time to complete. Geek In Pink used about $6,000 to make some minor facade repairs around windows and doors at its Main Street store.

Marshmallow Monkey used $13,500 to fill in a basement from a barbecue restaurant that burned down next door and pave a small parking lot in the empty lot.

The nine projects were approved by former Franklin Development Corp. board members in June 2013 — less than a year after they gave out $1.2 million in funding to four other projects. The goal was to get several large projects moving at the same time, but the two groups of projects depleted most of the organization’s funds.

Then the group’s executive director resigned, the city overhauled the makeup of the Franklin Development Corp. board, replacing six of the seven members. The city’s community development director, Krista Linke, stepped in to help manage the day-to-day operation of the group.

Although the organization was revamped shortly after the projects were approved, there were no disruptions where business owners couldn’t have started or withdrawn funds for their projects, said John Ditmars, the board president and only remaining member from the previous board.

That’s why new board members need to know whether the people who received the grants still intend to do their projects or get an explanation as to what delayed them, Ditmars said.

If work is progressing, the board likely will give those business owners more time to complete the projects, Ditmars said.

“To the extent there’s been any delays in starts, there have been some, and it comes back to why and what’s the reason. If it’s an ownership issue that’s one thing; and if it’s weather, that’s another,” he said.

Most of the projects involve some sort of outdoors construction and didn’t get started before the bitter winter, Linke said. For example, Dan Paris plans to start repairing brick and making other facade improvements at the former White Star Gas Station, 298 W. Jefferson St., once the weather breaks, Linke said.

The group also is putting $100,000 toward a housing project being done by the city with a state grant for repairs for low-income residents. The money has been paid toward the grant, but work hasn’t started, and the city plans to hire a contractor this month.

That project was delayed because lead paint inspections took longer than expected to completed, Franklin community development specialist Rhoni Oliver said.

Some delays were caused by requirements the board had set for the projects.

Meg Jones and her husband, Richard Goss, plan to turn some of their property on South Main Street into a new public arts garden but were delayed because the previous board required that the city parks department accept it when it was completed. Parks officials were hesitant to accept the property, and this month the Franklin Development Corp. decided to void that requirement, so Jones expects construction will begin this month and be done by June.

Franklin Heritage hasn’t collected any of its $100,000 grant for roof repairs and other renovations at the Artcraft Theatre because the board required the organization to raise $200,000 in matching funds. Franklin Heritage is planning the projects for this year and is totaling various donations to prove the group has raised the matching funds, director Rob Shilts said.

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