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Gateways, downtown top local priorities

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As more that 50,000 vehicles pass Franklin on the interstate every day, a vacant lot where a rundown motel used to stand, an empty strip mall, gas stations and fast-food restaurants aren’t getting people to stop.

New manufacturers are opening factories or expanding; new shops have been opening downtown; and festivals draw thousands of visitors to the city.

But if drivers never make that turn onto the exit ramp, they never find those attractions in Franklin, Mayor Joe McGuinness said. His hope is if the city can attract some restaurants or a new hotel those developments would help draw visitors into other parts of the city, too.

Projects to redevelop interstate exits and downtown areas are a priority for local communities that want to attract new visitors and businesses. For Franklin and Whiteland, the traffic that passes by on I-65 is lost potential for visitors to shop at local stores or spend money at restaurants.

In other places, such as Greenwood and Bargersville, their focus is on fixing up their downtown areas to clean up deteriorating buildings and bring back the shops and visitors that have moved to other parts of the community.

Making those changes can take years. The first steps are pinpointing the good and bad aspects of the area, deciding what type of development might work best, formulating ideas on how to net those projects and finding money to pay for any work that needs to be done.

For example, Greenwood is trying to get a $400,000 grant to help fix up storefronts downtown, while building a long-term plan that includes using funds from the city tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, Mayor Mark Myers said.

The areas city and town officials are highlighting have the best potential to become the site of a new business or bring in visitors, they said.

For example, Whiteland has been working for years to get a former grocery store site on U.S. 31 cleaned up, but it’s second on the town’s priority list after the interstate exit, town manager Dennis Capozzi said. The grocery store is an eyesore at a major intersection, but the wide-open land at I-65 has a wider possibilities of uses.

“The potential for bringing jobs to the community, for raising assessed value actually if that does develop, is just far greater,” Capozzi said. “It could be commercial, it could be big box, it could be retail. We’re just not real sure at this point and what would be a good fit for that.”

Whiteland officials want to start getting some of the larger industrial developments that typically settled farther north.

The town has teamed up with a national site selection firm to gauge what type of businesses might fit best at that exit, which will help town officials form a better plan for how to start seeking those developments. Once new developments are built around the exit, they’ll also start generating tax dollars in the town’s TIF district, which then can be spent on more projects to prepare for or entice new businesses.

Franklin also is asking a consultant to study the area, talk with potential developers and assess the good aspects of the area and factors that are scaring off developments.

But the bigger focus is on attracting visitors off the interstate. The area needs hotels, restaurants or a grocery store, McGuinness said. The city also wants to continue to get new industrial or warehouse companies to locate in the tech park on the east side of the interstate.

Franklin is planning road and sidewalk improvements around the interchange in 2018, which will help show developers that the city is devoted to improving the area, McGuinness said.

“It is a large gateway into the community, and so obviously you want to make it warm and inviting and provide some of the amenities and necessities that the folks on the east side need,” McGuinness said.

In other communities, the downtown is a bigger focus.

With the new City Center in downtown Greenwood, city officials want to focus on nearby businesses. Redeveloping downtown will bring in new businesses and new shoppers, and a more vibrant downtown also would be a highlight as city officials try to persuade manufacturers or large businesses to locate in the city. Greenwood is applying for a state facade grant that could help fix up buildings and also wants to form a five-year plan that will contain ideas for how to redevelop downtown.

“This is a newer push because we want businesses, when they come into town to meet with me and other city leaders, we want them to see what Greenwood is and what we’re all about,” Myers said.

Bargersville hopes a new brewery will become an attraction downtown, director of development Julie Young said.

A new downtown revitalization group has started meeting to find ways the town can start fixing up other buildings or encouraging new businesses to open downtown.

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