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Franklin seeks grants for renovations, flood recovery

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The city of Franklin has applied for a statewide grant that would help cover $13.9 million in projects, including redeveloping flooded properties, adding more trails and remodeling a vacant downtown building.

Officials will find out by the end of this week if the city is still in the running for the Stellar Communities program, which provides

millions in grant funding to two communities each year for development projects.

The city has outlined nine projects, including building a downtown market plaza, creating a technology center and small business space on East Jefferson Street, adding new trails, finishing road and sidewalk projects and promoting home ownership.

The city’s proposal seeks $9.65 million in funds from state agencies, with all of the projects targeting the downtown and other areas affected by the 2008 flooding. The city would provide $4.25 million in matching funds to complete the work.

“We were given a lot of support in the flood recovery process, but the redevelopment has purely laid on the shoulders of the city and we really could use some assistance,” Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

The Indiana Office of Rural Affairs is expected to reduce the number of applications being considered to six or eight, McGuinness said.

If Franklin is selected for the short-list, the city will develop a more detailed project list and conduct a site visit for state officials later this year.

The funding would help fast-track projects that are already in the planning stages and help make a quick improvement in the areas hit hardest by the flood, McGuinness said.

“We’ve been working on this for a few months and taking it very seriously. It takes 10 years worth of projects — streets, infrastructure, housing, revitalization projects — and it basically puts you in a situation where it gets done in three years. It’s a huge deal, it could be a huge boon for the communities that are selected,” he said.

Most of the projects on the list have already been discussed by the city’s redevelopment commission or other boards, McGuinness said. Planning has already started on some of the projects, which would help the city show state officials Franklin is committed to these projects, he said.

“It’s nothing that we’re absolutely creating. We’re sticking to our list and the projects we know we can get completed,” McGuinness said.

The most expensive item on the project list is construction of the Franklin Arts Trail costing $3.5 million. The 2.5-mile trail would run through the downtown and connect to other current and planned trails.

The arts trail would link into Franklin College trails, Province Park and a proposed trail through the urban forest on the city’s south end, where flood-damaged houses were demolished, Franklin parks superintendent Chip Orner said.

The city’s application also includes a combined $4 million for streets and sidewalk improvements along South Main Street and South Street. The Franklin Redevelopment Commission is already planning to fund those projects in the future, but the state grant would bump the projects up, city engineer Travis Underhill said.

Franklin also included projects for properties already owned by the city, including the former G.C. Murphy building and former Oren Wright property downtown, McGuinness said.

Under the grant proposal, the former G.C. Murphy building would become a new technology center with public computer labs as well as 27 offices for small businesses or start-up companies, according to the proposal.

That project adds an economic development angle to the proposal, along with the infrastructure improvements, Franklin director of community development Krista Linke said.

At the vacant Oren Wright property, which used to house county offices before the building was destroyed in the flood, the city would build a plaza for outdoor events including farmers’ markets and downtown festivals. Discover Downtown Franklin has already made initial plans for a building there, McGuinness said.

Other projects include creating a new trail through the urban forest planned for the flood buyout area, moving and expanding the city’s community garden space, starting a new program to help homeowners of flood-damaged make repairs and offering tax credits or financial incentives to first-time homebuyers interested in building or buying a home in areas that were affected by the 2008 flood.

If the grant is awarded to Franklin, the city would start design work on all of the projects in early 2014, with construction and new programs starting by mid-2015. The projects would all be completed by the end of 2016.

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