By ELODIE REED, Concord Monitor
Friday, April 28, 2017
In his three decades of watching Franklin start and stop economic revitalization projects, Franklin Savings Bank President Ron Magoon said this time, something’s different.
“In 29 years, this is the first time there’s been all the right people at the table,” he said.
That includes city officials, local businesses, the nonprofit PermaCityLife and members of the public. Through collaborative efforts, new businesses have opened up downtown, an old mill building has been renovated for affordable housing, and plans have moved forward for a whitewater play park.
It was with confidence, then, that Franklin Savings Bank bought a quarter of the $400,000 in tax credits New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority awarded to the Franklin Business and Industrial Development Corporation in August.
Franklin Savings Bank made its investment in February. Bank of New Hampshire followed with a $25,000 purchase, and just recently, Eversource Energy bought up the remaining $275,000.
Now, that money will go toward facade improvements for buildings owned by PermaCityLife. They are slated to begin in July or August and last through the end of the year.
“There’s been so much deferred maintenance in these buildings,” Todd Workman, PermaCityLife’s executive director said. Buell’s Block, Shepard Block and 337 Central St. will all get a facelift, though through the above mentioned partnerships, the work has already begun.
Where once empty and boarded storefronts lined the bottom floor of Buell’s Block, new green-painted facades welcome visitors to a coffee shop and outdoor sports store.
Across the street at “Toad Hall,” the former art gallery is being renovated into a tavern – new paint covered the tin ceilings Monday, and the large windows will be replaced within the month.
All of these upgrades will continue with the CDFA tax credit money. More windows will be replaced in Buell’s Block, and the back of the building will have work done to make way for a brewery.
At 337 Central St., the three storefronts there will get “a complete redo,” Workman said.
This work is what moves PermaCityLife’s goals from planning to action, Workman said. And some of the organization’s permaculture ideas will become tangible, too: a “green roof” is part of the upgrade for 337 Central St.
When businesses with rooftop gardens, a tavern, shops and a fixed up city center are noticeable to those driving through, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said, Franklin becomes a place people want to be.
“People buy with their eyes,” she said. “To be able to see some visible changes to the buildings will be able to help change the perception.”
Workman added, “The stigma goes away and people start to have confidence in the project.”
Franklin has a number of long-held stigmas to overcome, but given all that’s already happened in the downtown, the community partners there are optimistic.
“We have a lot of momentum building,” Dragon said. Workman regularly receives referrals for small businesses wanting to move to Franklin, and tradesmen, business owners and organizations already in the community are getting involved, too.
From the Franklin Business and Industrial Development Corporation’s perspective, the hope is that in addition to retail businesses, a stronger downtown Franklin will attract a skilled workforce.
“We have a shortage of skilled labor,” FBIDC director Jim Aberg said. “It’s one thing to have the jobs offered in the industrial park, but as people say, where’s my wife going to shop, where are my kids going to school?”
It’s a future that seems a little closer, at least to Franklin Savings Bank’s Magoon.
“If it fails this time, it’s never going to happen – this is the best shot we have and have ever had,” he said. “I think everyone is truly optimistic this is going to happen. And it is happening.”
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