Franklin is focusing on improving its main entryways to get more visitors and residents into an improved downtown.
Getting new restaurants and
hotels around the Interstate 65 exit and addressing an empty lot and strip mall are musts. But getting new business downtown and fixing the exteriors of buildings, helping people pay for and make repairs to their homes and making U.S. 31 look unique through Franklin also are high-priority items.
Franklin residents are proud of the historic downtown and neighborhoods, but it’s time for updates. And since people don’t enter the city through the downtown, creating gateways into the city at U.S. 31 and I-65 that let people know what’s in Franklin and why they should visit downtown will be key, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
City officials planning for the future aren’t focusing as much on attracting new developments such as business parks or new subdivisions as they are giving existing locations a needed makeover.
“With this we want to identify the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are the problems. What are our solutions?” McGuinness said.
The comprehensive plan is being updated and will give the city a map for the next 10 or more years and will be used to determine how the city spends local funds or what kind of grants it will pursue in order to improve the city.
Improving the I-65 exit on the east side is one of the planning committee’s top concerns.
The interstate is a major entryway to Franklin, but motorists getting off the exit are greeted with an empty lot where a collapsing motel used to stand, a strip mall and a few fast-food restaurants, gas stations and hotels. If someone on I-65 wants to stop, they’re going to go to Greenwood or Taylorsville because there are more businesses, comprehensive plan committee member Jim Martin said.
Not only does the city need to clean up the eyesore properties near the exit, Franklin just needs more businesses near the exit in order to get drivers to stop. A sit-down restaurant or high-end hotel would make the exit more attractive to travelers, and a grocery store would add convenience for eastside residents, committee member Loren Snyder said.
After getting drivers to stop in Franklin, the next challenge is trying to draw the visitors into town.
“I-65, the long and the short of it is, it’s our gateway. It’s not aesthetically pleasing. It just seems to be poorly developed, and we need to address that; and also we need to address that there is more past the interstate exit. How do we entice them to visit the downtown?” committee member Rob Shilts said.
Part of that problem will be addressed by the ongoing Gateways and Greenways streetscape project, Franklin community development director Krista Linke said. That project, when completed, will rebuild streets and sidewalks and add trees and decorative lighting from U.S. 31 to the I-65 exit along Jefferson and East King streets.
Another part of the solution could be as simple as posting road signs near I-65 and U.S. 31 that highlight some of the city’s features, Shilts said. If a person were blindfolded and taken to U.S. 31 in Franklin, there is nothing that makes it stand out from other highways running through cities, he said.
Combining new signs with the streetscape work could create a more inviting look that people will want to follow downtown, Linke said.
City residents and people who work in Franklin showed a strong interest in improving the downtown in a planning survey. More than a third of the 167 people who answered said that downtown revitalization should be the city’s top priority, while several comments focused on bringing in more businesses and residences and improving streets and sidewalks.
Several downtown projects are under way this year including the first phase of the streetscape work around the Johnson County Courthouse, continuing road reconstruction on North Main Street and façade work on historic downtown buildings. Those construction projects, while a nuisance to maneuver around now, will improve the look and atmosphere of the downtown, Shilts said.
The areas between the major highways and the downtown along Jefferson, King and Main streets are also a concern, and the city is considering new programs to help homeowners pay for repairs to their houses.
“A lot of what we care about is the most heavily traveled corridor through town, Jefferson Street and Main Street, where you get the most complaints because they’re the most visible. Where if one or two houses were fixed up, it would transform the whole block,” Linke said.
The city is applying for a state grant that would provide money for 15 to 20 homeowners to make improvements. Committee members also have talked about getting churches or housing repair groups involved in helping to fund and make improvements in neighborhoods throughout the city, Shilts said.
“Obviously the current housing programs need to be reinforced. There needs to be a couple of options to help folks out to keep their housing in a good condition,” he said.
The city also needs to create more areas for high-income housing. Executives who may work in Franklin are living in the Center Grove area because there aren’t places in Franklin to buy or build a high-end home, Snyder said.
A first draft of the city’s comprehensive plan is nearly ready and will allow city officials to see a breakdown of the city’s strengths, such as the downtown and parks, and weaknesses, such as vacant properties and poor roads, Martin said. Then local officials can decide which projects are the most important and try to find ways to pay for them.